Credit: Massimo Solimene/Pacific Press via ZUMA Press Wire-Scanpix
Credit Massimo Solimene/Pacific Press via ZUMA Press Wire-Scanpix

Virtus Bologna's run to the EuroLeague was interrupted in the semifinals of EuroCup last season when the Italian side lost the three-game series against UNICS Kazan. That loss started a process that led to many changes this summer. 

Sergio Scariolo replaced coach Sasha Djordjevic, and the transfer market brought several important additions to the roster.

Virtus strengthened their roster with former EuroLeague champion Ekpe Udoh, Italian rising star Nico Mannion, French big man Mouhammadou Jaiteh, and one of the best players of that last Eurocup's edition, American forward Kevin Hervey

With that kind of star-studded transfer market, it was easy to predict Virtus as one of the main candidates to win the EuroCup and repeat the title in Italy. 

But despite the good results reached so far (Virtus lost only two games in the Serie A and they have a 4-2 record in Eurocup), a recurring theme of their season has been the injuries. Since the early stages of the summer preparation, the Italian team had to deal with an abundant share of injuries. 

The first injuries

It all started with Mannion. The Italian guard came back from the Tokyo Olympics with a severe intestinal infection which made him lose almost 15 kilograms. That situation forced him to miss at least a couple of months, and the trainers had to redo the work on his physical condition completely.

When he came back from the intestinal infection, Mannion started to have back issues almost immediately. So far, the Italian guard has only played only four games in Serie A and four in EuroCup.

Last week, Virtus announced that he received specific treatment for the back and will be out until the beginning of January. 

Udoh, one of the main additions of the summer, suffered a severe knee injury before the season even started during the Italian SuperCup. He underwent knee surgery in September, and he'll be sidelined at least until the end of March if everything goes as planned. 

Free throws this season

Points made: 15,7
Accuracy: 69,1%
Place in standings: 6
Record max: 26
Record min: 9
Most made FTs: Milos Teodosic

Soon after Udoh, another Virtus player went down with a knee injury. This time it was Abass' turn, who suffered an ACL injury in the first game of the Italian Serie A and was forced to undergo surgery.

Just like Udoh, this type of injury usually takes at least six months for a full recovery, so Abass won't be available before March. 

Newcomers... new troubles

After this first wave of injuries, Virtus had to return to the market to find alternatives. Udoh was replaced by former NBA big man JaKarr Sampson, while French swingman Isaia Cordinier covered the absence of Awudu Abass.

When Mannion was still dealing with the intestinal infection, Virtus decided to add young American guard Ty-Shon Alexander, who had played his rookie season in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns. 

But the injuries didn't stop there. French big man Mouhammadou Jaiteh missed several games with a left-hand finger issue, Milos Teodosic also missed a couple of games because of a right calf injury. 

After a good start in his first few games with the team, also Sampson went down with an abductor injury and missed several games. Alessandro Pajola, one of the key elements of the team, also had to play through a couple of injuries, including a dislocated finger and a sprained ankle. 

Another of the in-season additions, Cordinier, suffered a pretty severe sprain to his left ankle with partial damage to the outside ligament in the game against Sassari at the beginning of December.

The French swingman will be out for at least four weeks and will be re-evaluated by the doctors after that. 

But when it rains, it pours, so in that same game against Sassari, Hervey, who had been one of the most productive players of the team until that point, was forced to leave the game after just one minute, holding his knee. 

Wrong diagnosis and doubts

The first tests made after the game didn't reveal anything serious, and the player's situation was considered day-to-day.

After a few days, though, Hervey kept experiencing pain in his right knee, and when the team made new tests, it was revealed that the player had suffered a tear in the lateral meniscus of the knee.

Hervey underwent surgery, and Virtus announced that he'll be out until the beginning of February. 

Hervey's injury raised questions about Virtus' environment on how the team has dealt with some of these injuries.

It's unclear if the first tests on Hervey's right knee were made by Virtus' doctors or by IsoKinetic, the clinic that Virtus use as a partner in the rehab process and prevention of injuries.

Still, Hervey went through two different exams in the first few days after the injury, and no one said that he had suffered a meniscus tear, an episode that doesn't speak in favor of the team's level of attention in this particular situation. 

Mannion's back issues also generated doubts on how the club treated the injury. In the week leading to Virtus' last game in Serie A against Cremona on December 12, there was the belief that Mannion could have been able to play, giving the impression that his back issues were almost over.

However, two days before the game, Virtus announced that after specific treatments, Mannion would have been sidelined until the beginning of January.

This kind of confusion generated doubts in the fans and the people around the club, especially because it involved a player showered in expectations before the beginning of the season. 

While after the game against Sassari, coach Scariolo hinted at the possibility of a new signing to help the team. Despite that, Luca Baraldi, the club CEO, announced that the team doesn't plan to go back on the market.

"We lost two important players right before important games such as the derby with Fortitudo and the one against Milan, but we won't make any moves on the market," Baraldi said to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Since the start of the season, coach Scariolo basically never had the chance to work with the full squad available.

"We are unable to proceed at the speed that we'd love to, but we're still going forward," coach Scariolo said after the game against Sassari. "The cohesion of the team is already at a very good level, but all these events forced us to rely more on individual plays. This is the reality we're living". 

No room for mistakes

In October, Virtus Bologna launched a capital increase of 2 million euros. Massimo Zanetti's control over the club now is even more stable than before. The ambition of the ownership is clear to everyone, playing again in EuroLeague is a must for this club, but as last season showed, a big budget and a lot of ambition aren't enough to reach EuroLeague.

The new EuroCup format, which includes a single-game system in the competition's playoffs, tends to limit the margin of error. One bad game, and you're out. 

All these injuries might be a problem for the Italian side going forward, but coach Scariolo and his guys will do their best to overcome these difficulties. The amount of pressure to deliver, however, remains high.

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