01 September, 2016
30 April, 2017
Rade Zagorac
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Out with the old, in with the new in Group D

(Basketball Champions League) – The teams which are set to compete in Group D bring a breath of fresh air which fits perfectly with the general mood of the inaugural edition of the Basketball Champions League.

Whether it’s Iberostar Tenerife and Sidigas Avellino, who challenge this year the established order in Spain and Italy respectively, or the new-talent factories of Cibona Zagreb and Mega Leks, or the newcomers of KK Mornar, Group D will be the battle field between teams that look to reinvent themselves or starting on a new basis.

Iberostar Tenerife are riding a 4-game winning streak and continue to stand at the top of the standings in the Spanish Liga Endesa, enjoying their best start in club history. Coach Txus Vidoretta has pieced together a deep roster which features several players that can step up on a given night. New arrivals like Aaron Doornekamp, Marius Grigonis and Fran Vazquez have fit right in with important players like Davin White or Javier Beirán who returned for another season at the club.

Sidigas Scandone Avellino have gone from strength to recent years and there is a general feeling that the team can improve this year on an already highly successful 2015/16 season, which saw them reach the Serie A play-off semi-finals and the Italian Cup final. Coach Stefano Sacripanti has added Ukrainain international Kyrylo Fesenko and Italian international Marco Cusin to create a formidable duo at the center spot, while maintaining the partnership of guards Joe Ragland and Marques Green who, at 1.65, is poised to be the smallest player in the Basketball Champions league.

SIG Strasbourg decided this summer to start a new project from scratch and parted ways with long-time coach Vincent Collet. Henrik Dettmann was handed the reins and the team went through a rough start in the French Pro A but will enter Group D action having picked up their maiden win of the season. The youthful duo of Erving Walker at point guard and Mam Jaiteh at center have adapted fast to their new team and could evolve into Strasbourg’s leaders this season.

Cibona Zagreb are the keepers of a great European tradition which does not only involve valuable silverware, but also developing young players of impressive potential. The 19-year-old Ante Zizic is certainly the star of the current exciting crop and is poised to have a huge season after his break-out campaign last year. Perhaps more importantly, the talented center has clicked right in with newly-arrived power forward Zeljko Sakić to form a fearsome frontcourt duo.

As the perennial Belgian champions, Telenet Oostende were not used to losing two of their first four league games so they are entering the Basketball Champions League while dealing with an unusual situation, but they are one of those clubs in which one has blind faith they will gradually find their way as the season progresses. Oostende combined a lot of young talent with experienced players on their roster and they have found that one from each category has emerged as a key offensive option. Vincent Kesteloot, the 21-year-old forward who debuted with the senior Belgian national team this year, and 36-year-old crafty center Rasko Katic have emerged as Oostende’s scoring leaders.

KK Mornar could not have started their maiden European competition in better form, as they overcame Igokea in Qualification Round 2 to clinch a berth in Group D. The Montenegrin team appear to have struck gold at the shooting guard and power forward positions when they recruited Antabia Waller and Cole Dickerson, while Balsa Radunovic continues his good form. The Topolica arena is far from the biggest in the competition but Mornar are sure to give a hard time to any Group D team that visits the town of Bar.

Mega Leks have become in recent years the de-facto club for young talented players from around Europe who aim to find playing time and showcase themselves at high level. One could pick literally any name on their roster and point to a future star. Two 21-year-old all-round guards who can do almost anything on the floor, Rade Zagorac and Ognjen Jaramaz, are the leaders of the team while Marko Tejic, also a member of the U20 Serbian national team that proclaimed European champion in 2015, together with Frenchman Alpha Kaba provide two quality options in the frontocourt.

Juventus Utena continue for one more season with celebrated head coach Antanas Sireika, the FIBA EuroBasket 2003 champion with Lithuania, at the helm and by now the team bares his mark in its style of play. Nonetheless Utena made new additions in the summer and has not had on the floor the same continuity as on the bench. Veteran forward Gytis Sirutavicius has returned for another season however and comprises a key quartet together with free-scoring Arminas Urbutis, sharp-shooting Vytautas Sulskis and influential point guard Jamar Diggs.