In the seventh of eight groups competing in FIBA EuroChallenge 2009-10 play — Group G — facing off are formidable programs and traditional tournament contenders from Antwerp, Artland, Tartu and Wels. Briefs follow the break.
• Antwerp Giants is not only bringing all the tradition of basketball in Antwerp, they’re also providing Lotto Arena for home games, at 5259 seats one of the biggest in all of EuroChallenge.
Players to watch: Team captain Christophe Beghin and Graham Brown – not that the latter is necessarily going to make Antwerp a force, but who could resist a pair of 2.06-meter twin towers in the middle?
Last season: Finished fourth in Belgium.
Current standing: Tied for fourth in Belgium’s nine-team top league at 4-4.
• As a perpetual Estonian candidate for pan-European play, Tartu University Rock has competed in this tournament (or its antecedents) in every season since 2003 except one. Most memorable was the team’s 2008 performance, which landed the team in the championship game.
Player to watch: Three times has Tanel Tein left his hometown Tartu and thrice he’s returned to good results. In his stints with the Rock, he’s twice been an SEB all-star (2006 and 2008) while winning five Estonian championships with the time. As captain Tein goes, it seems, so goes Tartu University Rock; one only wonders why he’d ever leave…
Last season: Finished second in Estonia, third in the Baltic Basketball League.
Current standing: Eighth in the SEB at 4-5 and in Estonia at 5-1 lag behind only 7-1 BC Rakvere Tarvas.
• WBC Raiffeisen Wels. Austria’s sole representative to compete in the EuroCup qualifiers, Wels was bounced in two games by Besiktas JK Istanbul. No matter: EuroChallenge 2009-10 play will make for the club’s first international play since the FIBA European League competition of 2005.
Player to watch: It’s gotta be Jason Conley, right? The guard has turned in a line of 15.4/5.9/2.4 through nine games in Austria and was on fire in the games against Besiktas, going for a combined 49 points, 24 rebounds, 12 assists and four steals to lead his team in all categories.
Last season: Champion of Austria’s “Admiral League.”
Current standing: In third place among admirals at 7-2.
• Artland Dragons. Proclaims the FIBA website: “There is not a hotter team right now in Germany than Artland Dragons, a club that could be among the favorites to win the EuroChallenge.” Well all right, then. Expect Artland to roll like they have since achieving Bundesliga status in 2003, culminating (for now) in 2008’s German quarterfinals finish and German Cup championship.
Player to watch: FIBA likes 34-year-old vet Toby Bailey to mix things up for the prospective EuroChallenge finalist, and why not? Bailey’s been showing he can still pour in the points, most recently with a 21-point effort in the Dragons’ 85-76 lose to Giessen 46ers.
Last season: A ninth-place Bundesliga finish.
Current standing: At 7-4, Artland is tied points-wise with Alba Berlin on the BBL table, but they’re 1.5 games back of the lead.