08 October, 2019
04 October, 2020
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Group D preview through the eyes of the Coaches

MIES (Switzerland) - On July 4, one of the biggest newspapers in Spain’s Aragon region reported on the Basketball Champions League Group D draw results under the headline 'Zaragoza to face off with PAOK again'.

The article was not referencing a previous encounter between the two teams in the past season, or in this decade, or even in this century. The game in question was the 1991 FIBA European Cup Winners' Cup but rest assured that every reader in Zaragoza, even those who were not yet born 28 years ago, was immediately aware of the reference.

The eight clubs that will face off in Group D are so established in European basketball that such historic anecdotes are deeply engrained in the collective memory of their fans, they are woven into the fabric of the clubs’ crests. Casademont Zaragoza was technically founded in 2002, but it inherited all the legacy and of course the fanbase of the historic CAI Zaragoza.

JDA Dijon was founded in 1880 (its basketball section of course started later) and the three initials in its name are a reference to Jeanne d’Arc. The French club will enter its 140th year of history midway through this Basketball Champions League season while PAOK of Greece, Besiktas Sompo Sigorta of Turkey and Lithuania's Neptunas Klaipeda are well past the half-century mark.

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Hungarian club Falco Szombathely dates back to 1980 while both Germany’s Telekom Baskets Bonn and Italy’s Happy Casa Brindisi were founded in 1992. In another group, all three would be among the most established clubs, but in this company they are considered newborn babies.

Memories however don’t compete on the floor and history becomes irrelevant the moment the referee throws the ball in the air for the initial tip-off. So we asked the coaches of Group D to help us navigate through the present situation of the start of the season on Tuesday.

Several coaches sing the praises of Besiktas point guard Jordan Theodore

We learned quite a few things, among them that Jordan Theodore is highly regarded, Gytis Masiulis could be poised for a break-out season, we will likely see a good deal of smallball, and coaches in this group are a great source of travel tips!

Excluding your own team, which four teams in this group have the best roster?

Porfirio Fisac (Casademont Zaragoza): It’s a very good group, with equally matched rosters. But highlighting anyone would not be correct. I think all the eight teams have the same options to advance.
Kostas Flevarakis (PAOK): Besiktas because they have balance between good guards and good big guys, Zaragoza because they are an ACB team and that in itself is enough, Brindisi and Bonn.
Dusko Ivanovic (Besiktas Sompo Sigorta): For me it’s very difficult to say at this stage, I normally prepare for the next game and avoid analyzing opponents very far in the future. But, without going into too much depth, it looks like Zaragoza is a candidate for best team in the group and the rest of the teams seem to be rather equally matched.
Laurent Legname (JDA Dijon): I think Besiktas and Zaragoza are the two best teams in the group at this moment in the season
Thomas Pach (Telekom Baskets Bonn): Besiktas, Zaragoza, Brindisi and Dijon.
Tomas Rinkevicius (Neptunas Klaipeda): Happy Casa Brindisi, Casademont Zaragoza, JDA Dijon, Besiktas Sompo Sigorta
Francesco Vitucci (Happy Casa Brindisi): Besiktas, Zaragoza, PAOK and Bonn.

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Who are the best four coaches in this group?

Porfirio Fisac: I know several coaches in this group. If they are here, it’s because they did a great job and I have huge respect for all my colleagues.
Kostas Flevarakis: Dusko Ivanovic of Besiktas, Frank Vitucci of Brindisi, Porfi Fisac of Zaragoza and Gasper Okorn of Falco
Dusko Ivanovic: I think they are all very good coaches and, as always, we coaches depend on details and on the players, but they are all quality coaches.
Laurent Legname: I don’t know all the coaches in the group very well, but of course Dusko Ivanovic is for sure one of the best coaches in the competition, not only in our group.
Thomas Pach: Dusko Ivanovic, Porfirio Fisac, Gasper Okorn and Kostas Flevarakis
Tomas Rinkevicius: Dusko Ivanovic of Besiktas, Frank Vitucci of Brindisi, Laurent Legname of Dijon, Porfirio Fisac of Zaragoza
Francesco Vitucci: No answer at this stage.


Which games in this group would you recommend watching to a neutral basketball fan?

Porfirio Fisac: All the games will be interesting. It will also depend on the teams’ circumstances each week. But, as I said, I think we’re in a very balanced group and every game will be nice to watch because all of them will be very exciting.
Kostas Flevarakis: Bonn against Besiktas [on October 29] and PAOK against Zaragoza [on November 20]
Dusko Ivanovic: I expect all games in our group to be worth watching, because these are all goods teams that play modern basketball.
Laurent Legname: As a basketball fan, I would like to watch the games between PAOK and Besiktas because their fans are among the best in the world and the atmosphere in the arena should be great.
Thomas Pach: I think the games between Zaragoza and Besiktas will be very interesting. I am also curious to see the atmosphere of the PAOK arena.
Tomas Rinkevicius: The games between Neptunas and Besiktas, the Neptunas vs. Zaragoza games and the Zaragoza vs. Besiktas games.
Francesco Vitucci: The games between Zaragoza and Besiktas, and the games between Dijon and PAOK

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Which of these games will be the toughest for your team, taking into account the opponent, travel and schedule?

Porfirio Fisac: This is Europe and the highest level, so there will be no easy games. However it’s important to know that if you’re playing on a Tuesday coming off a Sunday game, the level of what is required from you increases. Of course long trips like [the trips to] Klaipeda, Istanbul and Szombathely could be very tough with regards to rest time, connecting flights and so on.
Kostas Flevarakis: Zaragoza because of their up-tempo play, Besiktas because they are a strong team and Neptunas because it’s a difficult trip for us.
Dusko Ivanovic: Normally the opening game is the most complicated, so the first game against PAOK (on Tuesday October 15). Also the game at Neptunas, because we played against them last year and I know it’s a tough trip to Klaipeda, first a long flight and then an almost 4-hour long bus ride.
Laurent Legname: All the games are tough this year because all teams in this group are good, but maybe the toughest will be at Zaragoza. It’s never easy to win in Spain, they are a great team this season, they are off to a very good start in the ACB league, and also we will have to go first to Barcelona and travel from there, so even the trip is not easy.
Thomas Pach: We start at home to Zaragoza, one of the favorites, which is a difficult start to the season and the third game in five days for us.
Tomas Rinkevicius: The games against Zaragoza and Besiktas, because they are top teams in the league and they have better rosters than last season.
Francesco Vitucci: Zaragoza, because it’s a difficult trip from Brindisi

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Which player(s) in this group is special, either because of a specific skill or because they are difficult to defend?

Porfirio Fisac: We’re eight good teams with very good players playing for us, with different impact on our game plans.
Kostas Flevarakis: Shaquielle McKissic of Besiktas and Nicolas Brussino of Zaragoza
Dusko Ivanovic: No answer at this stage
Laurent Legname: There are several good players, but Jordan Theodore [of Besiktas] is a really great point guard, he has experience in the competition with AEK and with Banvit, which he helped reach the 2016-17 Final Four. I also think Shaquielle McKissic is a very good player, I have been following him for the past three-four years. Robin Benzing of Zaragoza is also a very good player and he has great international experience with Germany, even though Germany didn’t do very well at the last FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Thomas Pach: I worked a lot with Ismet Akpinar in Berlin [the coach and the guard coincided at Alba) and I am very proud of him and of the way his career is going. I wish him the best of luck. Also, Jordan Theodore of Besiktas is a player who brings a lot of quality to the competition.
Tomas Rinkevicius: Jordan Theodore of Besiktas
Francesco Vitucci: D.J. Seeley of Zaragoza, Rasheed Sulaimon of Dijon and Branden Frazier of Bonn are very interesting players.


Which player(s) in this group could be a positive surprise?

Porfirio Fisac: Domestic leagues and European competitions are a little bit different, so there is space for many players to shine here. Anyone has his opportunity in such a great competition.
Kostas Flevarakis: No answer at this stage
Dusko Ivanovic: No answer at this stage
Laurent Legname: Maybe a player from Falco can be the surprise of this group because they play at 100% in every game, they have no pressure after qualifying and I think it’s tough to play in their gym, it’s small and their fans are very close
Thomas Pach: Juvonte Reddic of Falco, Gytis Masiulis and Tadas Sedekerskis of Neptunas
Tomas Rinkevicius: Gytis Masiulis of Neptunas
Francesco Vitucci: Benjamin Simons of Bonn

Keep an eye on Benjamin Simons of Bonn, says Brindisi coach Frank Vitucci

Will this be a group for perimeter players or big men?

Porfirio Fisac: It could depend on the game. The most important thing is to get the best level from both. One week it could be a perimeter player and the next a big. We should have a good balance between the two to succeed.
Kostas Flevarakis: Perimeter players, no doubt about it.
Dusko Ivanovic: The tendency in Europe right now to play smallball, with four or even five players out, where everybody is mobile and shooting three-pointers, so the big guys are losing value unless if they are very athletic, switchable and they can shoot from outside.
Laurent Legname: It seems like everybody is playing smallball these days, although I think it actually depends on each game, it can change within the same game depending on the mismatches and it depends on the strategy of the coach for each situation.
Thomas Pach: It looks like there are a lot of strong guards
Tomas Rinkevicius: Perimeter players
Francesco Vitucci: Perimeter players

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Which team in this group plays a style of basketball that you find interesting?

Porfirio Fisac: We are eight teams from eight different national leagues and everyone has their own style. This is one of the most exciting aspects of the Basketball Champions League, you can see many styles and characteristics which are different to what you are used to. Nevertheless, I think all of us share a common feature, in that we’re very dynamic teams.
Kostas Flevarakis: Bonn, because of the way they run the floor
Dusko Ivanovic: No answer at this stage
Laurent Legname: No answer at this stage
Thomas Pach: It´s very difficult to say so early in the season but I look forward to watching Ivanovic team’s [Besiktas] play and Zaragoza.
Tomas Rinkevicius: At this stage of the season, it is very difficult to say.
Francesco Vitucci: No answer at this stage


Which team in this group will have the best defense and which one the best offense?

Porfirio Fisac: It’s difficult to know that right now, but I hope we could have both.
Kostas Flevarakis: Besiktas with the best offense, Bonn the best defense
Dusko Ivanovic: No answer at this stage
Laurent Legname: I wish for Dijon to have the best defense, but every coach wants that for their team! Offensively, I think Zaragoza will probably be the most productive because Spanish basketball is fast-paced and they go to more possessions.
Thomas Pach: PAOK will be strong defensively, Besiktas and Zaragoza offensively.
Tomas Rinkevicius: Besiktas the best defense, Zaragoza the best offense
Francesco Vitucci: I pick Zaragoza for its defense qualities and Dijon for its offensive playbook.


Which team will have the fastest and which team the slowest pace?

Porfirio Fisac: I don’t know, because playing in Europe is quite different and it also depends on the team you’re facing each week. We’ll see after tip-off.
Kostas Flevarakis: Zaragoza to play the fastest, Falco to be play the slowest.
Dusko Ivanovic: No answer at this stage
Laurent Legname: I can tell you that my intention is for Dijon to play fast, I would like my team to get the defensive stop or get the rebound and try to go for the easy bucket, score in the first 7-8 seconds. But obviously if we cannot do that, I want us to have the discipline to run sets that will get us the best shot, so we can also play slow.
Thomas Pach: PAOK the slowest, Zaragoza the fastest
Tomas Rinkevicius: JDA Dijon to be the fastest, Falco to be the slowest
Francesco Vitucci: Brindisi is the fastest team and PAOK the slowest


If you could spend a couple of extra days in one of the seven cities you will visit, which one would it be? And if you took out the whole team to a restaurant which city would you choose?

Porfirio Fisac: Istanbul is probably the most known, because of his beauty and size. But Bonn is also a very interesting and attractive city if the weather is good.
Kostas Flevarakis: Zaragoza
Dusko Ivanovic: They are all very interesting cities so it’s not an easy choice, but I would probably pick Bonn and Szombathely because I have never visited either one. As for the restaurant, I would definetely choose Dijon because it’s got very nice French food and wines
Laurent Legname: I love traveling, so if I had the money I would visit all seven cities! I know Istanbul is a great city, Thessaloniki is also by the sea and it must be very nice. I am though a huge fan of Italian food and food in Puglia must be fantastic, so I would go to Brindisi!
Thomas Pach: Either Thessaloniki or Istanbul
Tomas Rinkevicius: Istanbul
Francesco Vitucci: Dijon

Is the team that will win the Basketball Champions League title in this group?

Porfirio Fisac: We’re 32 teams competing for that title. But the main goal for now is to qualify to the next round, game by game. This is all we’re focused on.
Kostas Flevarakis: Yes
Dusko Ivanovic: I don’t know, but I will tell you that last year the champion came from our group…
Laurent Legname: I think a team from our group will go to the final.
Thomas Pach: I hope so!
Tomas Rinkevicius: Yes
Francesco Vitucci: No