Better late than never, as the old expression goes; and in the case of Unics Kazan’s 2010-11 season, continuing to achieve late could prove much better in the medium- and long-term future.
Few teams so actively rebuilt and retooled with purpose last offseason as Unics Kazan, bringing aboard Slavko Vranes out of Partizan Belgrade, 2009-10 Euroleague/FIBA Worlds sensation Kelly McCarty, and Zakhar Pashutin from Spartak St. Petersburg, among others while ensuring key big man Maciej Lampe would stick around for another couple seasons.
The club had actually undergone such a revision in recent history: For 2003-04, Unics Kazan beefed up its Martin Muursepp-led roster with Saulius Štombergas, Eurelijus Zukauskas and Chris Anstey to stomp through the Eurocup competition for its first-ever European title; the side also played in the Russian Superleague championship game for the third time in four years at season’s end.
While even this summer, the Unics braintrust reckoned their revamped squad would compete for Euroleague play over the medium-term, one- to three-year future, the immediate goal was to advance to the Continental stage by advancing through the Qualifying Round playoffs. That didn’t happen, with the Russian side missing advancement by just a single basket to eventual EL participant Spirou Basket.
Since the unfortunate match in Belgium, however, Unics Kazan’s 2010-11 has been little more than storybook. They’re currently tied atop the PBL table at 15-5 and play Cajasol Sevilla for the Eurocup championship – and automatic 2011-12 Euroleague bid – tonight in Italy.
Unics has been installed as a big 5.5-point favorite for the Eurocup final; BiE figures we’ll be seeing these guys in Euroleague play next year – and we already know that McCarty, Lampe, Pashutin, Vladimir Veremeenko and Marko Popovic are aboard. How much effort do you suppose will be put into re-signing Vranes to keep that incredible stock of height compete in Russia?
The Eurocup championship game between Unics Kazan and Cajasol Sevilla tips off at 8.45pm CET (2.45pm EST). The third-place game pitting Benetton Bwin against Cedevita Zagreb starts at 6pm CET (noon EST).