That neighborly feeling: Group E coaches survey
MIES (Switzerland) - Group E is the only group in the 2020-21 Regular Season to include two teams, Rytas Vilnius and VEF Riga, from cities that are only a short car ride away.
The other two teams in the group, Athens-based Peristeri and SIG Strasbourg are obviously far from the Baltics but still close enough to make this the most accessible group, in terms of travel, from the eight groups in this edition of the Basketball Champions League.
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Strasbourg are one of the select few clubs that have taken part in the BCL every season since its first edition, Peristeri and VEF are participating for the second year in a row while Rytas are newcomers to the competition.
We asked each coach 10 questions to help us preview Group E action, which tips off Tuesday October 27th:
Which teams in your group have the best roster and/or coach and why do you think so?
Nikos Papanikolopoulos (Peristeri): I think that Rytas is a very talented team. I don't know if they have the best roster but until now they have shown they have good rhythm and they are playing very well.
Donaldas Kairys (Rytas Vilnius): I don’t have an answer for now, cause you told me not to include our team (he laughs).
Lassi Tuovi (SIG Strasbourg): It's early in the season so the biggest thing is not the best roster or the best coach. It's kind of a continuation of the pre-season and the most important thing is how long you have the team playing together. We for example have played six games, which helps us a little bit, while Rytas have recently signed new players. So I would say that, at the moment, nobody in the group can say they have the better roster.
Janis Gailitis (VEF Riga): I have no clue about that, maybe the teams with the biggest budget.
Which games in your group would you recommend to a neutral basketball fan?
Nikos Papanikolopoulos: I would recommend to neutral fans to watch all of our team's home games and especially the first one, which will be even more important.
Donaldas Kairys: All the games of Rytas Vilnius.
Lassi Tuovi: There are many games I could recommend, but probably the games between Riga and Rytas will be interesting because they have sort of a similar mentality. Also, I expect every game we play at home to be fast-paced and therefore will be fun games to watch.
Janis Gailitis: I would suggest to watch every single Basketball Champions League game, if it is somehow possible in this modern age. Basketball is so interesting and unpredictable.
Which games in this group will be the toughest for your team and why?
Nikos Papanikolopoulos: I actually believe that the toughest ones will be the home games, those are the games you have to win if you want to do something good in the BCL. So every home game will be very important. Road games have more difficulty but less pressure.
Donaldas Kairys: All games will be tough, especially on the road. With the new format the price of every game is much higher.
Lassi Tuovi: For sure in our minds right now the toughest game is the first one, since we need to adapt to the competition and it's the first trip outside of France under the Covid-19 regulations, which create questions about travel in Europe and it's not easy. So we focus now on that first game and not on what happens after.
Janis Gailitis: The hardest games to play will probably be the ones with the longest flights - Strasbourg and Peristeri. Also the games against Rytas will always be very interesting for everyone in Latvia and Lithuania.
Name one or more players in this group which you think are really special (because they have a very specific skill, because they are difficult to defend, etc).
Nikos Papanikolopoulos: I think the Rytas point guard, Demetrius Jackson, is a very talented and skilled player, he is difficult to defend because of his size and explosiveness and of course he has excellent decision-making.
Donaldas Kairys: No answer.
Lassi Tuovi: I will name a special player on our team, Bonzie Colson, who is a different kind of 3-4 man who can handle the ball. He is for sure an interesting player to watch and he has started very well in the French league.
Janis Gailitis: I could name Abdul Gaddy [of Peristeri] who played for VEF Riga in the 2016-17 season.
Name one or more players in this group which you expect to be a positive surprise.
Nikos Papanikolopoulos: Up until now the Strasbourg forward Ishmail Wainright has been a positive surprise and I think he will keep it going.
Donaldas Kairys: No answer
Lassi Tuovi: I hope that the most positive surprise comes from my fellow Finn Alexander Madsen, of VEF Riga. He has been a Finnish international for years and it sounds like he is finally healthy and he will show what he can do on the court.
Janis Gailitis: Last year I said I hoped it would be Arturs Kurucs so this year I hope it is Kristers Zoriks, who was on the All-Tournament Team of the FIBA U16 European Championship in 2014 (when Latvia won the silver medal at home).
Which team in this group play a style of basketball that you find interesting, and why?
Nikos Papanikolopoulos: We didn't have the chance to scout the whole group in depth, but I think that Rytas play interesting basketball and a style that is tough to defend, especially at home.
Donaldas Kairys: I like teams that play high-intensity basketball. Starting on defense and carrying it on to offense. It makes the game much more fun to watch for the fans.
Lassi Tuovi: I hope that my team plays an interesting style of basketball, because it's the style I like, but I have always been a big fan of Lithuanian basketball, so when I go to play there either against the national team or now Rytas, I respect a lot the way they play.
Janis Gailitis: I don't have an answer for this yet, we will see in a couple of months.
Which team in this group will have the best defense and which one the best offense?
Nikos Papanikolopoulos: I hope we can be the best defensive team. And I hope we can have the best offense! But we will see on the court and it's difficult to predict because it's not easy to say how a team will play in the BCL when they have only played in their national league.
Donaldas Kairys: No answer
Lassi Tuovi: So far, it looks like we will have a great offense, this is what we have shown.Our job is to improve our defense to bring it up to the best level in the group. I still haven't seen the teams as much as I would like but the Greeks usually play very physical defense, so I expect them to be the toughest defense we will face.
Janis Gailitis: I also don't have an answer for this now, but I hope it is us!
If you could spend a couple of extra days in one of the cities you will visit in this group, or if you took out the whole team to a restaurant (the club president is paying!) which city would you choose?
Nikos Papanikolopoulos: I haven't visited Strasbourg yet, but from what I've heard it's a beautiful city to spend some time, especially if you can have your family with you.
Donaldas Kairys: It would probably be Athens or Strasbourg.
Lassi Tuovi: I've been so many times in Riga and since I am a big fan of Vilnius, maybe I would spend a few extra days there to enjoy the culture of basketball there.
Janis Gailitis: This is a question I can’t find an answer for. Maybe Vilnius, it is close to home.
Is the team that will win the 2021 BCL trophy in this group? (you can just give a yes or no answer, you don’t need to name the team)
Nikos Papanikolopoulos: I don't know, we don't have a clear picture of all teams yet, but there are a lot of equally high-level teams in the BCL so it would be difficult to predict anyway.
Donaldas Kairys: Yes.
Lassi Tuovi: Yes.
Janis Gailitis: I hope yes!