Zenit St. Petersburg was among the most potent offensive squads in the 7DAYS EuroCup last season as it advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time. Over the summer, Zenit retooled with a host of proven EuroCup stars to be able to match those results and aim for more. The list of newcomers is highlighted by two-time All-EuroCup selection Kyle Kuric and last season’s top rebounder Drew Gordon. Point guards Nicolas Laprovittola and Scottie Reynolds will spearhead an aggressive offense, while veteran guard Evgeny Voronov brings plenty more experience. Center Shayne Whittington will be asked to carry a significant role inside in his maiden EuroCup season. Sharpshooter Marko Simonovic is a difference maker at either forward position. Nikita Barinov, who returns to Zenit after a season away, adds more versatility at forward.
With a pair of point guards who could each be starters at other teams, Coach Vasily Karasev has building blocks for his team. Nicolas Laprovittola is a pure passing playmaker who will look to set up the multitude of scoring options on the team in their best spots to score, but will also take advantage if not well guarded. Scottie Reynolds, who will play the EuroCup with his fourth different team, is speedy and excellent in penetration. In addition to being a great scorer, Kyle Kuric is also an inspirational figure after coming back from a brain tumor. Kuric’s elite shooting won Herbalife Gran Canaria many games over the previous three seasons. Demonte Harper joined Zenit late last season and made an impact as a tough, two-way player. Now he is back for a full season. Sergey Karasev, who is also the coach’s son, is a natural scorer as well. Karasev will likely start at small forward, but can also move down to shooting guard if the team wants a big lineup. Veteran Evgeny Voronov brings important experience and leadership into the locker room and – as he proved with Unics Kazan in the EuroLeague last season when Keith Langford was injured – he still packs some scoring punch. In his fifth EuroCup campaign, Artem Vikhrov will help the team in a reserve role.
Two of Zenit’s premier candidates for power forward could not be more different. The sweet-shooting Marko Simonovic is well-known for stretching defenses all over the continent, while the high-flying Drew Gordon has made a name for himself with thunderous dunk, acrobatic blocks and rugged rebounding. The two could also share time on the floor with Simonovic at small forward. Nikita Barinov is another option for Coach Karasev at forward. Shayne Whittington will be the main offensive reference in the low post, though, like so many of his teammates, Whittington can also strike from the perimeter. In his first EuroCup season, Whittington’s adapting to the competition will be important for the club’s success. At 2.20 meters, Andrei Desyatnikov affects the game the moment his name is called, though he is usually limited in his minutes. Big man Anton Pushkov was lost for the season to a torn ACL and steady veteran Evgeny Valiev should be ready to step into that role.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Sergey Karasev returned home to play for his father last year after three seasons abroad and produced a somewhat inconsistent campaign. Alongside some fantastic offensive outbursts were a few poor-shooting games, too. But there is no reason for concern. Only 23 years old, Karasev has scored with relative ease at high levels since his teens. He is fantastic in catch-and-shoot situations, which there may be plenty of on such a strong offense, and is also a smart and strong passer. Playing opposite Kyle Kuric should benefit both players, especially with the quality point guard play expected from the backcourt. If he finds good chemistry with the rest of the Zenit perimeter players, there will be plenty for the St. Petersburg faithful to cheer about.
The big question mark on this roster surrounds the building of chemistry with eight new players. Otherwise, it is clear that Zenit is loaded with top-tier talent, experience and hunger. However, Zenit will be challenged from the very start, including an opening night trip to the Canary Islands where Kuric will face his former team. In fact, Zenit plays three of its first four games on the road and cannot allow itself to get into an early rut with that tough schedule. On the flip side, that run is followed by a stretch of four home games in five rounds, which would be the perfect time for Zenit to find its form if it looks to match – or surpass – last season’s results.