Unicaja returns to the 7DAYS EuroCup for the first time since winning the competition in 2017 and looks to be ready to challenge for the title again. The club hired a new coach, Luis Casimiro, with plenty of experience in the competition; Unicaja is his fifth EuroCup team. It also brought in up-and-coming talents as well as veteran players ready to play a leading role. Power forward Kyle Wiltjer, athletic big man Matthias Lessort and combo guard Jaime Fernandez belong to the former group; they have proved themselves and are ready for more. Point guard Brian Roberts is Unicaja's new floor general and a lot will depend on his performance.
Roberts arrives in Unicaja to lead the team and be Coach Casimiro's extension on the court. He is a smart point guard with a high basketball IQ, great shooting range and the ability to read the pick-and-roll well. He returns to the competition for the first time since 2010. Alberto Diaz, the 2017 EuroCup Finals MVP, will share the point guard duties with Roberts. He is a great defensive player with quick legs and outstanding court sense. Jaime Fernandez is a very fast combo guard who can use his driving skills to slash to the basket or play one-on-one to create his shot. Sasu Salin is a key player for his determination and the way he stretches defenses with his deep shooting range. He is a terrific three-point shooter (93 of 194 in the EuroLeague and EuroCup combined, 47.9%) and especially deadly from the corners, but can also use his ball-handling and size to attack the basket or hit his trademark stop-and-pop shot. Dragan Milosavljevic is an all-around guard with great versatility, size and experience. His intensity and talent is a plus for Unicaja's backcourt.
Versatile forward Dani Diez will be a key piece for Coach Casimiro. When playing small forward, Diez has the size and determination to overpower almost any opponent, and at the '4' position, he can use his explosiveness, ball-handling ability and outside shooting to give his defenders trouble. Adam Waczynski averaged double figures in points on 49.5% three-point shooting as the team's sixth man last season and that type of marksmanship will again be important for Unicaja. Kyle Wiltjer is a modern, stretch power forward with very deep range. He is expected to receive extended playing time together with team captain Carlos Suarez. Fully adjusted now to the power forward position, Suarez has great experience, a very effective turnaround jumper and outstanding rebounding skills, as well as many intangibles including his strong character, team-oriented mentality and determination. Lessort joins Unicaja after a stellar season with Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade. At age 22, Lessort was the second-best offensive rebounder (2.87 orpg.) in the EuroLeague last season. He averaged 8.5 points and 5.7 boards in 30 games despite playing just 21 minutes per night. Unicaja hopes to see him take another leap forward this season. Giorgi Shermadini is a mobile big man with a soft touch and very effective post skills. A great rebounder, Shermadini should be ready to contribute even more in his second season with Unicaja, with big man Viny Okouo backing him up and learning on the job.
PLAYER TO WATCH
With a team full of talented and versatile players, Unicaja will need the right point guard to make things work. Roberts comes off a good season with Olympiacos, in which he shot the ball well (43.2% 3FG, 96.5% FT), but did not have the major role he coveted. He is expected to play a major role with Unicaja, where he can read the game with the ball in his hands and look to involve others. Roberts and Diaz can both benefit from the competitiveness at point guard, as both players will have to give their best to earn get extra playing time. In the right role, Roberts can be a difference-maker at this level and he is eager to show it.
Unicaja won the 2016-17 EuroCup without having home-court advantage in any playoff series and finished the season with a 13-9 record. That shows that despite an up-and-down season, Unicaja was ready to fight at the right time and showed great resilience to overcome all obstacles and bring the trophy to Malaga. The club now returns to the EuroCup on a mission to lift the trophy again, but hopes to be more consistent during the season. The squad has all it takes – good players, athleticism, smart point guards and versatility at all positions, as well as a good, reliable coach – to reach deep in the competition, but Unicaja must be competitive at all times and use its 2017 playoff experience to try to be indestructible again, two years after writing one of the nicest pages in club history.