Season preview with the experts: the contenders, the newcomers, the players to watch
MIES (Switzerland) - Basketball Champions League Season Six looks like it's going to be the strongest so far. We set up a roundtable with our experts to help you prepare for the excitement all the way to the finish line in May.
Lending their hands are Jeff Taylor, the voice of so many legendary highlights in the history of the BCL; Diccon Lloyd-Smeath, the coach and analyst behind the Closer Looks, the tactical breakdowns and the Champions League Insider Column; and Igor Curkovic, the writer, editor and meme expert responsible for the Help-Side Column.
Take it away, gentlemen!
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Okay, let's go with the obvious question. Who is lifting that beautiful spiky trophy in May 2022?
Jeff: This is the not-so-obvious question to me since we have to get a good look at the new players to the traditional powerhouses in the competition. There are some important veterans still in the Hereda San Pablo Burgos team that won the last two titles, yet they have a new, albeit very good coach in Zan Tabak. I'll say despite their 1-2 start in Spain, Burgos, backed by their incredible fan following, will win it for a third time on the trot.
Diccon: It's very hard to look past Pinar Karsiyaka. The roster looks like a really great balance of continuity and fresh ideas. With Taylor, M'Baye, and Erden bringing the continuity, then some very aggressive recruitment with Colson, Blackmon, Mitchell, and the domestic arrivals of Can Korkmaz and Berkan Durmaz. Taylor and M'Baye know how to win the BCL and Ufuk Sarica knows how to achieve extraordinary things in Izmir. On paper, Karsiyaka have everything they need to get this done.
Igor: I have no idea. The obvious call would be one of the Spanish clubs, but I'm also feeling good about Pinar Karsiyaka's chances. The logic isn't really all that complicated - you've got the reigning MVP of the season joining the runners-up from 2021. Plus, they got James Blackmon. Plus, they got great rotation pieces like Can Korkmaz and Berkan Durmaz. So, they aced the summer market, while keeping Tony Taylor and Amath M'Baye, and having one of the best coaches around in Ufuk Sarica. Yeah, Karsiyaka are winning this, trust me.
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Let's keep it simple. Which newcomer club will have the deepest Play-Offs run in 2022?
Diccon: "Occam's Razor" is a principle of theory construction or evaluation according to which, other things equal, explanations that posit fewer entities, or fewer kinds of entities, are to be preferred to explanations that posit more. Or put simply, the simplest solution is usually the best one. In this case, the simplest solution is Prometey. I was trying to think of a team in the previous five seasons that came into the BCL with a more stacked roster and I couldn't think of one. Occam's razor probably means that my memory is bad, but it could also mean that this is just the strongest squad that we have ever seen on a new team in the BCL.
Igor: I'm liking Prometey, I'm liking Unicaja, but I'm saying Nutribullet Treviso. They were really solid during the Qualifying Rounds, they've got one of the best coaches around in Massimiliano Menetti, and they've got a good draw, because they've got zero teams from last season's Final 8. Next to AEK, VEF Riga and Falco Szombathely, they could even win the group and move straight to the Round of 16, right? Right. Just don't doubt Menetti. Go and google what he created in Reggio Emilia in the 2010s.
Jeff: Nutribullet Treviso are going to start bringing the good times back to a city that has so much history with basketball. They've got Michal "Sock it to 'em" Sokolowski, one of the Poland national team stars whose going to bring a little bit extra every night, on defense, on offense. Treviso dodged a bullet in the Qualifiers by beating Bakken Bears, but that's a good thing. They held their nerve and saw off a very tricky opponent. I expect the fans to get to behind this team and make the PalaVerde rock.
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Summers are awesome. You get to go swimming, you enjoy your vacations, the days are long, and the teams are hitting the market for new pieces. Which team had the best summer?
Igor: Easy. Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem. First of all, I'm starting a Retin Obasohan for MVP campaign. Then, when you add guys like Thon Maker and Anthony Bennett, you're making a splash and getting everybody's attention. And since they had a horrible (by their standards) season in 2020-21, they are probably feeling a bit euphoric to start this new chapter with coach Oren Amiel. Yes. That counts too. Picking up Oren Amiel as the head coach, also an awesome move.
Jeff: Well this is an easy one. It has to be Pinar Karsiyaka with the addition of Bonzie Colson, who is coming off a terrific season with SIG Strasbourg. A great professional who can get points anywhere on the court in key moments.
Diccon: This has to be Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem. They had the most work to do after deciding to move on from the days of TaShawn Thomas, J'Covan Brown, and Tamir Blatt and they have done it in the most flamboyant way. I was already sold on the idea of Retin Obasohan reuniting with Oren Amiel. I was even more sold on the idea of Amiel possibly utilizing Thon Maker as an uber-talented, hybrid between Hayden Dalton and Zach Hankins. Then you add Anthony Bennet, Sean Kilpatrick, Kaiser Gates, and Jaylen Adams into the mix, Jerusalem's summer business starts to look, frankly, ridiculous. Don't forget the sneaky addition of Willy Workman from Holon either.
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There's no "I" in "team," but there is an "I" in "I'm gonna watch this player closely all season long, because he's a beast!" Who are your two players to watch?
Jeff: I watched Tyus Battle help the USA win the title at the FIBAU17 World Cup in Dubai seven years ago and he then had many big games at Syracuse. It'll be very interesting to see what impact he makes with Dinamo Sassari. Puerto Rican Isaiah Pineiro played for VEF Riga last season and struggled to find his feet early on, yet ended up playing very well in several games. He's as strong and athletic as any player in the Basketball Champions League, battles defensively and on the glass. He now has a chance to take a step forward with Darussafaka.
Diccon: Ismael Bako is a player I'm really excited to see back in the BCL, especially under a coach like Pedro Martinez at Manresa. Dani Perez is one of the most underrated passers of the ball, anywhere, and with the spacing that comes with Martinez's system, the two of them look like a killer combination already. At 25 years old, Bako is about ready to explode and big minutes in the ACB and the BCL might just provide the perfect conditions for him to ignite.
D'Angelo Harrison is my second pick here. Prometey already won their first silverware of the season and there is clearly a game afoot in Ukraine. Harrison was given the keys to the offense by Frank Vitucci in Brindisi last season and it paid off. From what we have seen in the Qualifiers so far, Ronen Ginzburg is not looking to put the brakes on either. Prometey have surrounded Harrison with talent so teams won't be able to load up on him too much. 1v1 Harrison is going to be a problem.
Igor: Pako Cruz from Tofas Bursa. I watched him from the courtside during the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Split, Croatia, and he's just the nicest man ever. Okay, not to his opponents, he keeps killing them with his off-the-dribble finishes, with the skying floaters and a solid three-point stroke. Yeah, I like this. Pako, I'm watching you.
Jerrick Harding from ERA Nymburk. Second season with the team, familiar system with the new coach, since Aleksander Sekulic was the assistant there anyway, and not a lot of pressure of expectations because who in the world is expecting Nymburk to make it to three straight Quarter-Finals!? Harding has got all the confidence in the world, and his lefty dribble and shooting style make it extremely awkward for the defense to keep him quiet. Jerrick, I'm watching you.
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You got a call from a friend of a friend who has a friend who is a scout and is asking this question. Which youngster will have a monster season?
Diccon: Yannick Nzosa is the obvious standout here, but there is also a good chance that my friend the scout will already have both eyes fixed on him, so I'm going to pick Giordano Bortolani from Nutribullet Treviso.
I'm picking Bortolani because he was very impressive for Treviso in the qualifiers: 13 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds in three games and he's shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc so far this season - which is no fluke, by the way, he was very close to shooting 50-40-90 for the whole season last year for Germani Brescia. At just 20 years old and 6'4"/1.93m, what's not to like? Especially when you realize he's more than likely going to play more than 20 minutes per game for coach Menetti. They surely have a Best Young Player candidate on their hands in Treviso.
Igor: I'm not wasting ink (or your time) to say anything other than Unicaja's Yannick Nzosa.
Jeff: I don't know if it will be a monster season, but Furkan Haltali of Besiktas Icrypex has shown me enough that's he's going to be a solid pro, especially if he keeps working hard. The 6'9''/2.06m center is tall, strong and relentless and had some very good moments at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup this summer in Riga.
Furkan Haltalı, açılışı smaçla yapıyor. 🔥pic.twitter.com/1tiausE1kR— Beşiktaş Basketbol (@BJK_Basketbol) March 28, 2021
John Patrick, Roel Moors, Oren Amiel, Zoran Lukic... Who is the next in line? Who will be the coach of the season?
Igor: Txus Vidorreta. He's got a rock solid foundation from last year, and got guys like Joan Sastre and Kyle Wiltjer who were made for Lenovo Tenerife basketball. He deserves it, he has been the best coach of the first five BCL seasons in my mind.
Jeff: There are so many good coaches but I'll go with one who was one of the finest last season in Lassi Tuovi of SIG Strasbourg. Finland national team coach Henrik Dettmann empowered Tuovi several years ago by letting him run the timeout huddles during key situations for the Susijengi, including at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. Last season, Tuovi showed tremendous poise and nous and made great adjustments during games to help SIG go on a run to the last four. He's also had the benefit of not just working under Dettmann, but France national team coach Vincent Collet as well, the former SIG boss.
Diccon: If it wasn't for the group of death that Manresa finds themselves in (more on that in the next question), I would almost certainly be looking at Pedro Martinez here but I'm reluctant to predict anything from Group B and whichever coaches survive over there will automatically put themselves in the running for this award. Fotios Katsikaris at Unicaja stands out for me as a strong contender. His teams are always incredible to watch and with playmakers like Bouteille, Brizuela, and of course Norris Cole, Unicaja will be unlikely to struggle offensively.
Baxi Manresa— MaxFrontini (@MaxFrontini) September 30, 2021
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How to move off the ball pic.twitter.com/w9mFf1qQAw
With the new system in place, three teams from one Regular Season group could advance. Which group is the group of death, the one where every game will be too close to call, the one with at least three teams expecting they'll be there in the Quarter-Finals?
Jeff: I'm intrigued by Groups E (PAOK mateco, ERA Nymburk, Galatasaray Nef, Igokea) and H (Besiktas Icrypex, Rytas Vilnius, EWE Baskets Oldenburg, Hereda San Pablo Burgos), but Group A looks like it has the potential to be the biggest dogfight.
Lenovo Tenerife are favorites yet they better be ready every night. Prometey coach Neno Ginzburg is as good as they come. He excelled at Nymburk and with the Czech Republic national team. There are players that have experience in the competition like Miro Bilan, and minutes with their national teams. Expectations are always high for Banco di Sardegna Sassari. MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg's great coach, John Patrick, led the club to the Final Four in the second season of the Basketball Champions League and he has some very interesting players, like Yoeli Childs, a big-time scorer, and rebounder in his four years at Brigham Young University. So yes, I think Group A.
Diccon: Group B has to be the group of death. Jerusalem and Karsiyaka are both absolutely stacked and could very easily meet again in the Final. Manresa with Pedro Martinez and Stal Ostrów Wielkopolski under Igor Milicic, will both be among the best-coached teams in the BCL this season. Group B has to be up there this season for the highest concentration of playing and coaching talent in any group.
Igor: Group A with Lenovo Tenerife, Banco di Sardegna Sassari, MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg and Prometey sounds like a group where all four would've been favorites to advance in any other group. Three of those four should be in the Round of 16 and will be really disappointed if they are not.
💀 𝐆𝐑𝐎𝐔𝐏 𝐎𝐅 𝐃𝐄𝐀𝐓𝐇 💀— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) September 27, 2021
Who you got in Group A of the #BasketballCL?