20 October, 2020
09 May, 2021
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Unicaja excited to face a new challenge; BCL draw a talking point even in Japan

MIES (Switzerland) - The draw for the Qualifying Rounds and the Regular Season is behind us. Starting with July 8, teams will already move their attention to group rivals all over the world, trying to get some groundbreaking clues even when a couple of European teams meet up for a friendly game somewhere in Japan.

"A funny little thing, I just played with my national team against Belgium, and their coach is also the coach of Filou Oostende. We talked a lot after the game, and we will talk again after this draw, about the upcoming games," SIG Strasbourg coach Lassi Tuovi said. His Finland side lost to Dario Gjergja's Belgium 74-64 in Okinawa.

"Oostende are a team that has won a large number of league titles in Belgium, always very motivated when they play away. Tofas are a big club in Turkey with a high level roster, it will be a great challenge to face them because they will have a strong team," Tuovi added.

Along with SIG Strasbourg, Filou Oostende and Tofas Bursa, the fourth member of Group F will come from the Qualifying Rounds. SIG Strasbourg will not be the only French team in the Regular Season, because French League finalists JDA Dijon are located in Group C.

They will face Greek League finalists in Lavrio Megabolt, last season's BCL Final 8 member Nizhny Novgorod, and a big Spanish name making their debut in this competition - Unicaja Malaga.

"It's a complicated group," Unicaja's coach Fotis Katsikaris said after the group. "It is very difficult right now, so soon, to make an assessment of our rivals because we are still building the squads. But we are approaching the season with great enthusiasm, both in the ACB and in a new competition like BCL. We are very, very excited to face the challenges that are waiting for us."

That one sounds like the group of death for 2021-22, but there are a lot of other close groups all over the floor. Back together in Group A are Dinamo Banco di Sardegna Sassari and Lenovo Tenerife, joined by the pole sitter from Germany. MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg are making a BCL comeback fresh after finishing first in the German League Regular Season.

"We caught a tough and high quality group! Tenerife are traditionally a very strong team and generally one of the best clubs in the ACB and they have also been at the top of the BCL for years. Over the last ten years, Sassari are certainly a top 3 team in Italy and a team that we know very well, not only from the European competitions, but also from the preseason (preparation tournament in 2018). If you then consider that Le Mans could also join the Group or that another club is even better than them, it will be a real challenge to reach the next round," Ludwigsburg coach John Patrick said.

Patrick and Ludwigsburg made it to the Final Four back in 2018, when AEK won their only title so far. Coach Stefanos Dedas is now at the helm in Athens, ready to write a new page in the Queen's history books.

"AEK are historically and traditionally a team that has had its dynamics in the Basketball Champions League, but we are creating a new situation. We are building now," coach Dedas said, adding that AEK will take all of their Group D rivals - Hungarian champs Falco Szombathely, Latvian champs VEF Riga, and a Qualifier - seriously.

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Throughout all the post-draws reactions, feelings can be summed up in three main groups. One is the universal respect for opponents, other a sense of optimism on where the league is headed by getting stronger and stronger, but the final feeling is the most important one.

"These games will be absolute highlights for our fans and I hope we can experience them together in the arena," EWE Baskets Oldenburg sports director Srdjan Klaric said. His team's fans are in a monster of a group, with the two-time defending champs Hereda San Pablo Burgos, perennial Turkish juggernauts Besiktas Icrypex and Lithuanian giants Rytas Vilnius.

"It will be a great sporting challenge, but we will do everything we can to make it to the next round," Klaric added.

Group winners will advance to the Round of 16 straight away, while second and third placed teams are through to Play-In best-of-three series. There will be four groups of four teams in the Round of 16, top two advancing to Quarter-Finals best-of-three series, before the season finale in a traditional Final Four environment.