For today’s preview on Unicaja Malaga, we are proud to have among us a writer from one of the most impressive websites about European basketball, Daniel Barranquero of acb.com. Daniel is based in Malaga and gives us his unique inside view on the regular Euroleague participant.
Overall record prediction: 6-4
It’s not common practice to talk about revolution in a team which only has bought four players and a coach. But this Unicaja is a new team. Same players, same supporters, same goals but a different style: Aito style. Aito García Reneses, the Spanish National Team head coach in the last Olympic Games, left the squad after winning the silver medal in Beijing and signed a three -year deal with Unicaja.
García Reneses has a large list of accomplishments in his 35-year career, but he still has a strong and melancholy desire. He yearns for the Euroleague title. The coach has reached the Final Four six times, but he never fulfilled his dream of raising the European trophy. In Malaga, Aito will have an ambitious team which plays its eighth Euroleague in a row and wants to grow in Europe. For this reason, Unicaja has shaped a powerful roster to be a solid contender in the best competition of the continent.
Unicaja has signed Omar Cook with the hope that the player of the Montenegro NT would be a nice complimentary, at least better than Bojan Popovic, to Carlos Cabezas. The Malaga-born point guard desires to convince his new coach that it was a mistake not to call him for the Olympic Games.
The backcourt new leader may be Thomas Kelati, a great addition who dazzled in ULEB Cup last year playing with PGE Turow. The only professional basketball player with Eritrean roots, promises defense and points and would make a great duo with Berni Rodríguez, but the international player suffers an ankle injury and faces now about three months of recovery. His replacement is the explosive Joseph Gomis, the second best scorer in ACB last season. Besides, the long-time captain of Spain Carlos Jimenez, who retired from his national team last summer, and the Czech Jiri Welsch, who needs to improve his performance in Unicaja, also guarantee defense and teamwork.
Marcus Haislip is expected to have a prominent role in the frontcourt. The dynamic power forward of Malaga is freakishly athletic, has amazed Europe with his dunks and scores easily… but he has not exploded, he´s not yet the star he was supposed to be. German Gabriel, a great promise of the “Golden Boys Generation”, is now one of the best three-point specialists of the team but he´s maybe too soft and weak on defense to play a lot of minutes with Aíto. However, the two centers of Unicaja, Robert Archibald and Boniface Ndong, assure consistency, strength and rebounds. Robert is a well-known player for Garcia Reneses (they were together in Badalona) and ‘Boni’ proved last season that he can be one of the most outstanding centers in Spain and Europe. Moreover, the promising Brazilian Vitor Faverani will try to take advantage of his opportunities.
Unicaja has the mark of Aíto García Reneses, the substitute of the successful Sergio Scariolo. The team has been the only unbeaten in the ACB preseason and its two first games in the league were wonderful, beating Real Madrid and Cajasol and playing at high level. The main goal of the squad is to leave the irregularity behind. In fact, in these last years, European fans who partipate in basketball forums talked sarcastically about “Unicajism” (“Unicajian Performance Fluctuation Syndrome: UPFS”) to describe the irregularty of team, a box of surprises capable of the best and the worst.
In short, with an accessible group, Top-16 is an obligation for Unicaja; Final Four, a possibility. The title? Just a dream, by now…
Final Four participants: Montepaschi Siena, CSKA Moscow, Regal FC Barcelona, Olympiacos
Euroleague winner: Olympiacos
written by Daniel Barranquero