On the eve of FIBA EuroChallenge 2009-10, here are the BallinEurope.com briefs on Group B, certainly one of the toughest first-round pools, including Cyprus’ champion and perpetual European contenders EiffelTowers Den Bosch.
• Khimik Yuzhny. No stranger to EuroChallenge, Yuzhny took the then-EuroCup Challenge championship in 2006 by taking out Ural Great Perm in the finals.
Player to watch: Lavell Blanchard, who brings his game from Proteas; last season, the forward contributed 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in EuroChallenge games – not to mention a nice 58% success rate from the floor. Coming over to Yuzhny with fellow former Proteas player Darrel Mitchell should help, too.
Last season: Third place in the Ukrainian Super League.
Current standing: Tied for fifth in the Ukrainian Super League at 4-2.
• Strasbourg IG. With a history over 70 years long, Strasbourg fans might like it if only their team turned back the clock to 2005, when they were crowned French champions. This season, the offense is blazing (including an insane 42.0% rate from three-point land) in averaging a respectable 76.1 points per game, the defense has given up a league “high” 85 per.
Player to watch: How about rookie Terrel Harris? Harris joins Strasbourg after four years with Oklahoma State University and a Vegas Summer League stint with the Los Angeles Lakers’ club. Harris has game enough, but the question for NBA teams may be one of discipline; will he mature in Europe?
Also worth looking out for is France’s Thomas Heurtel. Escaping the relegated Pau-Orthez, Heurtel has performed okay for Strasbourg in 2009, with 8.1 points, 4.8 assists and 1.8 steals per in eight Pro A games thus far, but must improve on his 38% shooting or Strasbourg is going nowhere.
Last season: Finished eighth in France’s Pro A division.
Current standing: A lowly 14th out of 16 Pro A teams at 2-6.
• APOEL Nicosia, a.k.a. the Pride of Cyprus. Its country’s defending champs, APOEL has racked up nine national championships, 11 national cups and nine Supercups in its history. Though expected to qualify for EuroCup play, Nicosia will have to settle for its status as one of the teams to beat in the EuroChallenge.
Player to watch: The entire defense. Though APOEL is second-lowest in per-game scoring within Cyprus’ top division (they’re outscoring only 0-4 Omonoia Nicosia), the very picture of tenacious D has allowed only 63 points per game.
Last season: Took the Cyprus League championship.
Current standing: Top of the Cyprus table with a perfect 4-0 record.
• EiffelTowers Den Bosch. One of the Netherlands’ biggest-budget clubs, EiffelTowers is also one of the country’s best-known teams in Europe. Since a merger established the team in 2005, it has played for the Dutch championship in four consecutive seasons, winning two. Last season saw the team finish in the EuroChallenge final 16.
Player to watch: The team’s official site states that Anthony Richardson has “NBA potential,” but EiffelTowers fans may never want him to leave. Known in the Netherlands for his thunderous dunks, Richardson is a favorite to take the scoring title this season and could well lead EuroChallenge as well. A nice example of his work: The 22/7 he contributed in a losing effort that saw the Dutch team bounced by Aris in EuroCup play.
Last season: Lost in the FEB Eredivisie finals to Amsterdam.
Current standing: Third in Holland at 9-3.