EuroCup preview: Intriguing title contenders and exceptional pool of players

2021-10-18 06:00
Pijus Sapetka and Orazio Cauchi, Staff Writers
Credit: D.Lukšta,AFP-Scanpix,NurPhoto-Getty Images | BasketNews illustration/A.Zaikauskas
Credit D.Lukšta,AFP-Scanpix,NurPhoto-Getty Images | BasketNews illustration/A.Zaikauskas

There has been a busy EuroCup off-season. Virtus and Partizan shook up the market several times and challenged each other by signing famous basketball names. But we cannot sleep on other teams which made significant moves too.

BasketNews invites you to take a closer look at what happened during the summer in Europe’s second-best league and give the perspective of which teams are the favorites to conquer the top.

Boulogne Metropolitans 92

It seems that the French national team, winning international awards in the last ten years, set a good tone for the whole country’s basketball pyramid. Two each French teams participate in the strongest European basketball leagues.

From what we can see from Metropolitans 92 offseason signings, the French Revolution might continue.

Boulogne’s new bench boss, Vincent Collet, will try to transfer success from the national team to the club. Names that he got at his disposal seem mighty.

Vince Hunter landed in Boulogne after a controversial situation in Italy. First, Virtus Segafredo signed him to a contract extension, but two weeks later, Hunter was terminated by the club due to disqualification for anti-doping sports code violation.

Last season, the athletic big man was named the EuroCup Top 16 MVP and selected to the All-EuroCup Second Team.

Jordan McRae, former NBA champ, joined Metropolitans after a season in China. The 58th overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft represented five different teams across the Atlantic. In 2016, McRae became the NBA champion with the Cavs.

In addition to the mentioned players, Boulogne boosted their roster with the arrivals of powerful forward Bandja Sy, ex EuroCup winner Will Cummings, experienced EuroCup debutant Steeve Ho You Fat, and deadly sharpshooter Keith Hornsby, who led the German Basketball Bundesliga in three-point shooting percentage with 50.9% from deep.

Boulogne Metropolitans 92 is one of the EuroCup dark horses that will try to become a solid unit and attempt to take advantage of the new tournament system.

They have already demonstrated their power, blowing out AS Monaco (108-81) and Nanterre 92 (104-76) in the LNB Pro A.

Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar

Lokomotiv was one of the most exciting teams to watch during the last EuroCup campaign. Free-flow, attacking-oriented basketball with much improvisation grabbed the basketball lovers’ attention.

Despite losing the Lithuanian duo of Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Mantas Kalnietis (MVP of 2020-21 VTB United League), big men - Drew Gordon, Reggie Lynch, Kevin Hervey, and backcourt pieces - Nigel Williams-Goss and Will Cummings, the Russian squad added strong reinforcements.

Errick McCollum, a true EuroCup expert, arrived at Krasnodar. He is a former league champion and MVP. The American guard is the tournament’s fourth all-time scorer with 1,222 points, has career averages of 17.0 points and 3.0 assists in 72 games.

Besides McCollum, Lokomotiv welcomed potential leading players Stanton Kidd, Darius Thompson, Greg Whittington, and Johnathan Motley.

The latter played 46 NBA games and had 3 seasons in the G-League, averaging over 22 points per game. Motley has the potential to shine in the EuroCup and even enter the radars of some EuroLeague clubs.

Let’s not forget the big man Alan Williams, who underwent surgery last season. He contributed 22.1 points and 13.1 rebounds per 7 VTB games and registered double-double averages in 8 EuroCup contests (14.5 PTS and 12.5 REB).

The Russian squad is packed with individual talent but lacks reliable European basketball veterans, gluing the team. It seems that the new core will have to build good chemistry both on and off the court to succeed.

Valencia Basket

The Spanish team made a step backward after competing in the EuroLeague for the past two seasons. But it’s nothing bad, knowing that Valencia are the four-time EuroCup winners (leaders in this category) and finished second twice.

Exactly the first two places guarantee promotion to the strongest continental competition.

The Oranges parted ways with head coach Jaume Ponsarnau. They also survived the departures of Vanja Marinkovic, Nikola Kalinic, Guillem Vives, Derrick Williams, and Joan Sastre.

However, the Spanish powerhouse brought back Valencia’s pride, Victor Claver. They also acquired Joventut’s dynamic duo - Nenad Dimitrijevic, Xabi Lopez-Arostegui, and Burgos’ athletic big man Jasiel Rivero.

The Cuban, like the new Valencia’s bench boss, Joan Penarroya, were the main architects of San Pablo Burgos victories, navigating the team to back-to-back BCL titles in 2020 and 2021.

Valencia maintained the team’s backbone, keeping Klemen Prepelic, Louis Labeyrie, Sam Van Rossom, Mike Tobey, Martin Hermannsson, and captain Bojan Dubljevic (all-time EuroCup leader in total points and rebounds).

The Spanish club has an even roster with 10 high-level players, which can be a massive advantage in a long season.

Virtus Segafredo Bologna

After three years with the Toronto Raptors as an assistant coach, Sergio Scariolo returned home to guide historic Virtus Bologna. Multiple medalist in international tournaments with the Spanish national team, Scariolo, assembled a very capable roster.

However, the team needed early changes due to the injury situation. Before the season started, Virtus lost Ekpe Udoh as he tore the patellar tendon of his left knee.

Awudu Abass was another unfortunate player, suffering an ACL injury in the first Italian Serie A game. Nico Mannion also had health issues as he was recovering from an intestinal infection.

Nevertheless, the Italian powerhouse found strong reinforcements to the mentioned athletes. Former NBAers Ty-Shon Alexander and JaKarr Sampson arrived at Bologna.

The team’s newest addition was Isaia Cordinier - the 2020-21 All-EuroCup First Team member, who posted 15.8 points (44.5% 3PT), 5.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in 13 EuroCup games last season.

Virtus have a particularly strong backcourt, involving an Olympic duo of Italian selection - Mannion and Alessandro Pajola, Marco Belinelli, ball magician Milos Teodosic, rising player Ty-Shon Alexander and Italian basketball veteran Marco Ceron.

The frontcourt does not lack skills either. Aside from remaining Amar Alibegovic and Amedeo Tessitori, Kevin Hervey and Mouhammadou Jaiteh also joined the squad.

Jaiteh landed in Italy after a stint with Gaziantep Basketbol, averaging 16.7 points and a competition-best 10.8 rebounds per 30 Turkish League contests.

Moreover, having JaKarr Sampson in the big men’s department at 4 and 5 positions looks like built for the toughest challenges.

Sampson has already shown what Virtus fans can expect from him. Having 236 NBA games in his resume, the 28-year-old debuted with a white and black jersey, scoring 17 points (7/8 2PT, 3/3 FT), grabbing 4 rebounds, and collecting 19 PIR.

So, Virtus Bologna includes an interesting combo of veteran players and young basketball talents. Certainly, it is Sergio Scariolo’s time to conquer the top of prestigious European clubs competition.

Partizan NIS Belgrade

The Serbian capital team blew up the summer market and are called tournament favorites. It’s hard to argue when Zeljko Obradovic, nine-time EuroLeague champion, is standing at the helm of the squad.

The roster was completely rebuilt, and it seems to be formed for the EuroLeague games. A new, jaw-dropping mix of players, including Kevin Punter, Radions Kurucs, Zach LeDay, Dallas Moore, Aleksa Avramovic, Yam Madar, Alen Smailagic, and Balsa Koprivica, looks menacing.

Adding Nemanja Dangubic and Rade Zagorac from the last season, we got a squad of top-notch basketball talents.

Even the departures of Eric Mika, Ognjen Jaramaz, Joshua Perkins, Rashawn Thomas, William Mosley, and Marcus Paige are not emphasized.

Without a doubt, Partizan names look threatening on paper, but names do not play on the court, so Belgrade’s team will need to prove its favorite status.


Looking at the players’ side, the amount of talent in this year’s EuroCup will be high, with several EuroLeague caliber players that took the EuroCup route to pursue their ambitions.

So we decided to create a Top 5 list of the most interesting and fun players to watch in the upcoming season. As usual, players are in no particular order, and the list is not strictly related to the best players but covers the most interesting to watch.

Kevin Punter (SG, Partizan Belgrade)

Punter was one of the best players of last season’s EuroLeague, so the fact that he’s now playing in the EuroCup should help you understand how much Partizan is investing into the team this season.

Punter averaged 14.3 points per game in EuroLeague last season while shooting 39% from three-point. He’s a two-time Basketball Champions League champion and, in general, one of the best shooting guards in Europe. He shouldn’t be playing in EuroCup, but again, Partizan is kind of a wild card in this sense.

It’s easy to predict him as one of the candidates for the MVP title at the end of the season. Coach Obradovic recruited him really hard over the offseason. With the EuroCup season now set to start, it’s time for Punter to shine. 

Nico Mannion (PG, Virtus Bologna)

We could have easily built this top-5 just with Virtus Bologna and Partizan Belgrade players, considering how deep and talented their rosters are.

Mannion was one of the main additions of the summer for Virtus, but his issues with salmonella forced him to stay off the court for several weeks.

But the Italian point guard has now fully recovered, and he’s going to be one of the most exciting players to watch in the EuroCup.

After a strong summer with the Italian NT, the initial expectation was that Mannion would have returned to the Golden State Warriors, but Virtus did a great job in recruiting him after the Warriors refused to offer him more than a two-way contract.

Virtus roster is filled with talent, but Mannion is probably the purest and shiniest one. So there’s definitely going to be a lot of hype surrounding him for the entire season. 

Johnathan Motley (PF/C, Lokomotiv Kuban)

A very athletic and mobile big man with a great interior game, Johnathan Motley is hands down one of the most intriguing players to watch in this season’s EuroCup.

A Baylor alumn, Motley went undrafted in the 2017 NBA Draft but signed a two-way deal with the Dallas Mavericks. In the NBA, he also spent some time with the LA Clippers but couldn’t stick around much.

In the past season, Motley played in South Korea, dominating the league with his athleticism and physicality and averaging impressing numbers. He finished the season with 20.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game.

Over the summer, he signed a deal with Russian side Lokomotiv Kuban, and in the first few games in VTB League, he has been dominant, averaging 20.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, so far.

Several EuroLeague scouts are already watching his name for the next season, in the meantime, Motley will surely be among the main protagonists of the EuroCup season. 

Jordan McRae (SF, Metropolitans 92)

This will be the real first European season for Jordan McRae. The one he had with Baskonia in 2017-2018 lasted so little due to the injuries that don’t even count.

McRae now has more experience, and during his recent time in the NBA, he had the best season of his career with the Wizards, averaging 12.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game during the 2019-20 season.

He went to play in China last season, and now he’ll have the opportunity to be one of the main guys in a team like the Metropolitans with a good mix of veterans and less experienced players.

A forward with great scoring instincts and good secondary playmaking skills, McRae knows how to attack the basket effectively, and with a good frame, he’s not afraid of drawing contacts.

The French club might not be one of the top favorites to win the competition, but McRae is definitely going to be one of the most interesting to watch during the season. An NBA-level talent that might boost Metropolitans’ hopes to become a contender. 

Willie Reed (C, Buducnost)

The American big man, 31, will play his second season in Montenegro. After a stint in EuroLeague with Olympiacos, which wasn’t particularly successful, it looks like Reed has found his niche in Montenegro.

Last season, he was one of the competition’s best players, averaging 12.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks per game.

He was selected into the All-EuroCup first team thanks to his impressive energy and presence in the paint.

Buducnost was able to re-sign him over the summer, and with the simultaneous addition of former Panathinaikos big man Jacob Wiley, the Montenegrin side will have a very intriguing frontcourt for the competition.

With his ability to finish around the rim and moving well without the ball, Reed is a constant menace for opponents’ defenses. He can also anchor the defense with his interior presence and solid footwork that helps him cover the ground in a very effective way.

Once again, the American big man is expected to be one of the most important players in the competition and a highlight reel weekly candidate. 

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