Onto Group F of the 2009-10 FIBA EuroChallenge go the BallinEurope.com primers … Group F features quite a grab-bag of contenders, once each from Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia and Turkey. Should be a weird one.
• Generali Okapi Aalstar was founded in 1949 (and has undergone many a name tweak since then), but has recently been fighting its way back to perpetual contention in Belgium. They’ve been in the top division since taking the 2nd division in 2006; early on in 2009, though, the going’s been a bit shaky.
Player to watch: Big man Korvotney Barber, the rookie chasing up an impressive four-year career at Auburn.
Last season: Third place in Belgium’s Ligue Ethias.
Current standing: Okapi Aalstar currently occupies the eighth spot at 2-6 and coming off a pair of ugly losses in Belgium.
• Banvitspor BC is a perpetual participant in Europe Cup/EuroCup/EuroChallenge tournaments, having played ball every year since 2005; that season, the Turkish team finished fourth in its greatest European success to date.
Player to watch: Lance Williams, who scored his 1,000th career point in Turkish basketball, earned over three seasons from 2002-03. He’s been a solid contributor this season as well, with 14.2 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in the first six in Turkey.
Last season: Finished 12th in the Turkish Basketball League.
Current standing: One of seven teams (the TBL’s top division has 16) at 3-3.
• VEF Riga. Since its reestablishment in 2007, VEF Riga has lived up to a rich history win back-to-back Baltic Challenge Cup finals appearances, as well as making the Latvian League final four; this year’s EuroCup qualifiers marked the team’s apex thus far.
Player to watch: Lovers of defense love Team Latvia’s Gatis Jahovičs, a real master of the proverbial intangibles who can score, too, as evidenced by his 13.6 for ASK Riga in the 2008 LBL playoffs. Jahovičs hasn’t played a regulation game since then, however, missing all last season after suffering an injury during EuroBasket qualifiers.
• KK FMP Zeleznik. Winner of Croatian Cups in 1999, 2003, 2005, and 2007, FMP is making its first bid in FIBA’s pan-European competition.
Player to watch: Local hero Miroslav Raduljica, now back from a highly successful Eurobasket 2009 outing with Team Serbia and of whom great things are expected. Luckily, Raduljica has delivered early, with a 17-point, nine-rebound game against Red Star Belgrade already recorded this season.
Last season: A third-place finish.
Current standing: Currently 13th of 14 in the Adriatic League.