Sofia group: Big BCL names aiming for a comeback
SOFIA (Bulgaria) - TaShawn Thomas has been one of the most dominant players in the history of the Basketball Champions League, while D'Angelo Harrison had a magnificent 2020-21 season. There is no room for both in 2021-22.
Thomas is in Bulgaria with Le Mans, while Harrison leads the way for BC Prometey from Ukraine. The hosts Levski have put together an all-Bulgarian team, and we are already used to seeing an all-Czech roster by Opava. Parma-Parimatch and Hapoel Eilat also see their chance to reach the big dance.
Levski v BC Prometey
The hosts have won the Bulgarian League last season and now look to take another step forward in the club history. Playing in their backyard could be a morale booster for the Bulgarian champs, who have already played the BCL Qualifying Rounds.
It was back in 2018-19, when they blew out Siauliai from Lithuania in the First Qualifying Round, but they were no match for Finnish champions Karhu in the second round, losing a chance to become the first Bulgarian team in the BCL. They have appeared in two FIBA Europe Cup seasons, reaching the Second Round of the Regular Season in 2018-19, and the First Round in 2019-20.
Even at home, their job will be extremely difficult in the Quarter-Finals. They are up against the Ukrainian champions BC Prometey, a team that was founded in 2018 and already has the capacities to sign notable names like Denys Lukashov, Oleksandr Lypovyy and the international players like Chris Dowe, who already had highlight moments in BCL with Anwil Wloclawek.
DJ Stephens is another player who will play well above the rim, a one time record holder for vertical jump in the NBA Draft Combine, but when it comes to scoring, it's hard to find a better guy than D'Angelo Harrison.
The shooting guard from Anchorage, Alaska froze all his opponents while at Happy Casa Brindisi last season, and only a serious injury stopped him from being in serious MVP talks. Harrison averaged 19.3 points per game in the BCL last season, which would've been even higher if you took out the 5-point game he had when he got injured.
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Prometey also brought in an experienced coach. Czech national team head coach Ronen Ginzburg, who was the architect of the ERA Nymburk machinery in Czech Republic is back in the hot seat, ready to make Prometey an advanced version of Nymburk in a couple of years.
Parma-Parimatch v Hapoel Eilat
This Quarter-Final will offer a clash of styles. The Russian squad Parma-Parimatch are relying on domestic firepower, with players from neighboring countries helping out the Russian core. The only American player on the team is Jeremiah Hill, a 26-year-old shooting guard who averaged 15.7 points per game for Astana in the VTB United League in 2020-21.
On the other side, Hapoel Eilat will hand over the scoring duties to Bryon Allen and Will Cherry, with Jacob Evans, Justin Patton and Romello White giving them an option to play with an all-American lineup.
"Hapoel have an American style of play, showing a lot of aggressive defense and fast offense. The team is very uncomfortable, runs a lot and often changes tactics in defense," Parma-Parimatch head coach Kazys Maksvytis said. "They are a prominent representative of Israeli basketball, where international players play the main role."
Parma-Parimatch will try to avoid what happened when they last played an Israeli team. Back in the Semi-Finals of the FIBA Europe Cup just five months ago, they lost to Ironi Ness Ziona by a single point, thanks to a late three-pointer by Wayne Selden, the Final Four MVP.
Wayne Selden takes Ironi Ness Ziona to the FIBA Europe Cup final!— Marco Pagliariccio (@loupaya) April 23, 2021
(24 pts on 7/20 FG, 3 reb, 2 ast, 4 stl for him) pic.twitter.com/TMytpN8Ahh
Opava and Le Mans
The winner of Levski v BC Prometey will get to face Opava in the Semi-Finals. The Czech club made news back in the 2018-19 season, when they played the Regular Season in the Basketball Champions League with only Czech players - and not just that, but players born in the Opava region of the country. They picked up two wins, over Nanterre 92 and Telekom Baskets Bonn.
The Athletic Bilbao approach is back for another run, this time in the Qualifiers. Almost the entire squad from 2018-19 is still here: Rostislav Dragoun, Radim Klecka, Jan Svandrlik, Filip Zbranek, Miroslav Kvapil, Martin Gniadek, Radovan Kouril, Ludek Jurecka, Jakub Sirina, Jakub Slavik, Jan Stepanek.
They do have a couple of foreign players in Swedish center Mattias Markusson and the Slovak forward Juraj Palenik, but coach Petr Czudek and the rest of the front office know what they are doing, keeping the homegrown vibe alive.
In the other part of the draw, the winner of Parma-Parimatch v Hapoel Eilat will meet Le Mans in the Semi-Finals. The five-time French champions have last won a trophy back in 2018, and they do have BCL experience from previous editions.
But the term BCL experience takes a new level when discussing their roster. Scott Bamforth, Deishuan Booker and TaShawn Thomas are in town - Bamforth was a lightning bolt for Dinamo Sassari, Booker played his rookie season in Europe with a BCL team in ERA Nymburk, while Thomas was a perennial MVP candidate with Hapoel Jerusalem.
TaShawn started his BCL path with Hapoel Holon in 2017-18, averaging 14 points per game, and over the last three seasons with Jerusalem, he's had 11.8, 15.4 and 17.5 points per game, while shooting above 65 percent from inside the arc in each of his four seasons.
Another big name with Le Mans is Dante Cunningham. The forward has played 736 NBA games, both in the Regular Season and the Playoffs, and playing in France will be his first European experience after a couple of seasons in China and Puerto Rico.
The winner of the Sofia tournament will move on to Regular Season Group A, alongside Dinamo Sassari, Lenovo Tenerife and MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg.