Ismael Bako, BAXI Manresa back in the Basketball Champions League
MANRESA (Spain) - The one-time Spanish champions are back in the Basketball Champions League. BAXI Manresa were a part of the 2019-20 season here, and they are bringing back familiar names all over the floor in 2021-22.
Pedro Martinez is the playcaller again for Manresa, entering third year of his third stint at the club. Martinez spent four years at TDK Manresa back in the early 1990s, and was the head coach for the 2014-15 season. He returned in 2019, and led the team to a 7-7 record in the BCL two seasons ago.
Here is what coach Martinez has on his coaching board:
Only five players are back from the 2020-21 season: Guillem Jou, Dani Garcia, Rafa Martinez, Dani Perez and Yankuba Sima. Having Dani Perez is especially big for Manresa, the point guard was the top passer of the Liga Endesa last season, averaging 6.5 assists per game.
Sylvain Francisco will help Perez out in the backcourt. The French point guard is leaving his homeland for the first time since starting his pro career in 2017, and the 24-year-old was impressive for Chorale Roanne last season in the LNB Pro A.
Francisco averaged 14.7 points and 4.7 assists in 32 games, starting all of them. Those are even better numbers than he had in the Pro B with Paris in 2019-20, when he averaged 13 points per game. A transfer to Manresa will give him a chance to continue his individual progress, while getting a taste of international basketball as well.
Ismael Bako is the biggest arrival for Manresa. The Belgian big guy is a 26-year-old looking to start the Spanish chapter of his career, after a pair of seasons at ASVEL in France. Bako has also been a member of the Belgian national team since 2016.
Back in 2018-19, he was one of the heroes of Telenet Giants Antwerp's trip to the Basketball Champions League Final Four. For his efforts all season long, Bako was selected to the Basketball Champions League Star Lineup in 2019, alongside Tyrese Rice, Kevin Punter, Tim Abromaitis and Vince Hunter.
Another arrival from France is Chima Moneke. The forward was a part of the Nigeria training camp before the Olympics, playing his part in the memorable win over Team USA, and also getting a chance to play against his second homeland of Australia, and his good friend Dante Exum.
Moneke had 15.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game for Quimper in the Pro B in 2019-20, and backed it up with a 14-point, 7-rebound per game season in Pro A with Orleans. Playing with Manresa in the BCL will be his first ever continental experience.
The frontcourt rotation will be deep with Luke Maye joining the rotation. Maye had one of the most memorable shots in the history of North Carolina, sinking the long two with 0.3 seconds left against Kentucky to send the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 2017.
Maye spent two more seasons with North Carolina, averaging 14.9 points and 10.4 rebounds as a senior in 2018-19. He turned pro afterwards, playing with the Wisconsin Herd in the NBA G League and getting his first European minutes with Trento in Italy in 2020-21.
BAXI Manresa will have a bit of Latvian flavor to their game, too. Marcis Steinbergs is a 20-year-old coming over from Gran Canaria, while 28-year-old Janis Berzins gets his first trip to Spain, after making a name for himself with VEF Riga and Ventspils, and playing the last season with Stelmet Zielona Gora in Poland.
In Elias Valtonen, Manresa will get another prospect from the north of the continent. The Finnish 22-year-old guard played for the Arizona State Sun Devils in the NCAA from 2018 to 2020, and came back to Europe in 2020-21, putting up impressive numbers of 15.8 points per game for Tigers Tubingen in the second division in Germany.
Finally, Joe Thomasson will be responsible for the scoring punch. The 28-year-old American guard impressed scouts while in Poland, playing there from 2017 to 2020, starting with Gdanski, then going off with Lublin, averaging 19.3 points per game in 2018-19.
He spent a year with Zielona Gora after that, and has been a part of the Gilboa Galil squad in Israel to finish out the 2020 season and coming back for the entire 2020-21 season. Thomasson had 14.2 points per game last season, done on 48 percent shooting from the field, including 41.4 from beyond the arc.