Time for a BallinEurope.com primer on the fifth group of the eight FIBA EuroChallenge divisions: Group E, home of the best teams from Siberia and Romania — plus perhaps surprise 2009-10 national champions from Belgium and Ukraine, too. Read on!
• Enisey Krasnoyarsk. The Siberian team is competent but again slightly outclassed in Russia’s top league this season, it seems. Though Krasnoyarsk is giving up 81 points per game, the team has managed to stay close in most matches this season; the Siberians have managed to give both CSKA Moscow and Dynamo Moscow scares this year, but the best news so far is probably that Krasnoyarsk just snapped a five-game losing streak with a 72-71 win at Spartak St. Petersburg on Saturday.
Player to watch: Kaspars Kambala, of course – now playing under the tutelage of Latvian coach Ainārs Bagatskis! (Just be ready to duck.)
Last season: Eighth place in the Russian Super League.
Current standing: Again in that no. 8 spot, with a 1-5 record.
• Liège Basket. Certain to be one of the most exciting teams in the EuroChallenge this year, 2010 may mark the season in which Liège makes its move into Europe’s elite while challenging the likes of Spirou Basket, Dexia Mons-Hainaut, and the Antwerp Giants back home in Belgium: one heck of a 1-2 combination they’ve got going on there…
Players to watch: One is Will Thomas, the stud from George Mason University. Thomas re-upped with Liège after debuting professionally with the team last year when the Washington Wizards did not sign him post-NBA summer league – and Thomas is continuing to excite in Liège, most recently contributing a 17-point, 13-rebound show in beating up on Optima Gent, 84-63.
Just as scary is Michael Green at guard, who put in 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting to go with eight assists. Thomas now leads the Ethias Liga in rebounds with 9.0 per game (and in tops in the league in index rating at 21.6), while Green is second in assists with 5.3 per.
Last season: A fifth-place finish in Ethias.
Current standing: 6-2 and a strong second place on the Belgian table.
• BC Donetsk. The reconstituted team in Donetsk progressed from the third division to the Ukrainian Super League in the minimum two years after its rebirth and was last season invited via wild card to the FIBA EuroChallenge (some credit the cross-sport influence of Sergei Bubka). This season, the Tigers juuuuuuuuuuuuust missed out on joining the 2009-10 EuroCup, ceding the final available spot to Bilbao with a 90-79 on the last day of play.
Player to watch: How about watching the coach instead: To wit, can Ramūnas Butautas redeem himself after a brutal performance by Team Lithuania in Eurobasket 2009?
Last season: Lost in Ukrainian Super League championship to BC Azovmash Mariupol.
Current standing: A perfect 8-0 has Donetsk atop the Ukrainian table and two games better than Kiev.
• CSU Asesoft Ploiesti. They’re back again (and again and again): The winners of six straight Romanian titles and four straight Romanian Cups return to tournament play again, hoping to take back the title that was one theirs as European Cup champions of 2005. (Unfortunately, Ploiesti has gone 3-13 in FIBA EuroCup/EuroChallenge play since then.)
Player to watch: Wingman Arvydas Cepulis came over from then-Akasvayu Girona when that team faced economic woes in 2008; last year, the Lithuanian posted marks of 15.8 points, 2.3 steals and 1.5 assists per game last season. Plus, you gotta love any guy nicknamed “Onions.”
Last year: What else? Romanian champs!
Current standing: Tied at the top of the Romanian table with U-Mobitelco Cluj-Napoca at 10-1.