The Club Scene: UCAM Murcia

Jan 13, 2017 by Frankie Sachs, Print
The Club Scene: UCAM Murcia

It may be UCAM Murica’s first ever 7DAYS EuroCup campaign, but it would be hard to know by watching the team play. The roster oozes heart and experience and the results have the team, which features players from eight different countries, on track to reach the quarterfinals. Surely this was part of the dream when the club was launched back in 1985. The road here was long and winding with multiple promotions and relegations, but there is no denying that Murcia is now a respected name in Spanish and continental basketball.

The club was founded in 1985 thanks to the leadership of businessman Juan Valverde under the name "Agrupación Deportiva Juver". Valverde remained at the helm as club president for nearly two decades and Juver was the sponsor through the 1992-93 campaign. The club began playing in the regional leagues, but after one year acquired the rights from a Madrid-based club, Logos, to compete in the first division, where it remained for four seasons.

Valverde sought a young coach to help guide the club into the professional ranks and turned to Felipe Coello, while American big man Randy Owens became Juver’s first foreign player and its biggest star at the time. By the 1989-90 season, Juver, led by Mike Phillips, struck gold by beating Obradoiro in the first division playoffs and clinching a spot in the ACB.

CB Juver Murcia debuted at Spain’s top level in 1990 and remained there for six more exciting seasons. The club made history when, thanks to stars Ralph McPherson and Clarence Kea, it reached the 1992 playoffs before going down to Elosua Leon in a sweep. Kea set a Spanish League record that stands till this day with 29 rebounds in a December 1991 victory over Breogan Lugo. From the 1993-94 season, the team became known as CB Murcia and it recorded another highlight by beating Unicaja Malaga behind Duane Washington and Michael Anderson to reach the semifinals of the 1996 Copa del Rey on its home court, the Palacio de Deportes in Murcia. Eventual winner TDK Manresa eliminated Murcia 78-81.

Murcia slumped the next season, finished the regular season in 17th place and fell to Xacobeo 99 Ourense in the regulation playoffs. However it would only in the LEB for one season; Tony Smith, Xavi Sanchez, Edu Sanchez and Ramón Moya under Coach Coello led CB Murcia Artel to an 18-6 record and first place before it swept Askatuak, Tenerife Canarias and – in the finals – Fuenlabrada to return to the ACB. Sadly, the promotion would be short-lived. Recreativos Orenes CB Murcia went 4-30 in the 1998-99 ACB campaign to finish last by a wide margin.

This time the stay in the first division would last four years. Murcis reached the promotion playoffs in two of those seasons, but never got past the quarterfinals. But come 2002-2003, Murcia was ready for the challenge. Coach Coello relied on José Luis Galilea, Xavi Sánchez, Antonio Reynolds and Anthony Stacey and the team ranked second in the regular season with a 20-10 record before beating Unelco Tenerife 64-78 in the playoff finals to regain promotion to the ACB.

Despite Polaris World Corporation coming aboard as a sponsor, Murcia was once again relegated after one season. This time it took only two years to bounce back. Polaris World CB Murcia, guided by Coach Manolo Hussein, was third in the 2005-06 LEB Oro standings with a 22-12 record and a 3-2 series win over CAI Zaragoza – after taking the decisive fifth game in overtime – in the semifinals secured a return ticket to the ACB. The arrival of Marcus Fizer helped Murcia in its first season back in the ACB, which the team survived by beating ViveMenorca by 1 point on the last day of the regular season to avoid relegation. The 2007-08 campaign was a bit easier thanks to Stephane Risacher and Federico Kammerichs and Murcia finished 12, but a year later survival came down to the bitter end. This time Taquan Dean was the hero with clutch free throws to beat Zaragoza in a do-or-die game for both. A change in club management prior to the 2009-10 season led to some disorganization prior to and during the season. The result was a mid-season coaching change, 5-29 record and relegation.

The stay at LEB Oro would last just one season. Luis Guil came in as head coach and with a young Vitor Faverani dominating inside, Murcia went on a dominant campaign in which it finished atop the standing with a marvelous 30-4 record. Its spot in the ACB was not assured until the final game of the regular season, in which it edged second-place Obradoiro 111-112 to clinch the top spot and promotion without having to battle through the playoffs. That would be the last game Murcia has played in the LEB to date.

UCAM become the chief sponsor in 2011 and future EuroCup champion James Augustine anchored the frontline that season as the team skirted relegation with a 13-21 record. A year later, former world champion Berni Rodriguez provided leadership and Marcus Lewis was the reference inside as Murcia repeated its 13-21 mark, although it was not easy. The 2013-14 was a bit tougher and saw assistant coach Marcelo Nicola take charge to fire up the team in January, but thanks to Kim Tillie and Augusto Lima, Murcia rallied to go 12-22 and place 13th. Diego Ocampo arrived as head coach in the summer of 2014 as did Raul Neto, Nemanja Radovic and another world champion, Carlos Cabezas. Together with a dominant Lima, Murcia had its first ACB season without a losing record as it went 17-17 and ranked 10th. It only missed the playoffs by one win!

Fotis Katsikaris was named head coach for the 2015-16 season and he took Murcia to new heights. Even though Lima departed for Real Madrid midway through the season, Faverani returned to take his place and Facundo Campazzo emerged as the team’s star. Murcia finished the ACB regular season on a five-game winning streak during which it climbed into the playoff zone and eventually finished seventh with a best-ever 18-16 record. Murcia even managed to take a game off Madrid in the quarterfinals before losing the best-of-three series 2-1. Nonetheless, Murcia had so much to be proud of, including the fact that it had secured a berth in its first continental competition, the 2016-17 7DAYS EuroCup.

Murcia has proven to be no normal EuroCup newcomer. Even with another coaching change – Oscar Quintana came for his second stint at the club, Campazzo remained and helped Murcia come out firing in the EuroCup by beating Buducnost VOLI Podgorica in its debut. After Round 6 it had already advanced to the Top and first in Group C with a 4-1 record. Murcia slumped after that, but still finished third in its group en route to the second phase of the competition. And then came a win over fellow Spanish side Montakit Fuenlabrada in their Top 16 opener. Murcia is playing with house money; it has already done so much this season that was simply unthinkable just a few years ago. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to come. Watch out for UCAM Murcia!