Only two players are back from the team that reached the 7DAYS EuroCup Top 16 last season, plus Limoges has a new coach, well-traveled Alfred Julbe. The newcomers range from veteran shooter Nicolas Lang at small forward to promising teenage prospects Timothe Crusol at guard and Maxime Carene at center – and every position in between. Vee Sanford, Semaj Christon and Ovidijus Varanauskas make up the new backcourt, while Hugo Invernizzi slots in at swingman. Brian Conklin, Marcus Ginyard and Benoit Mbala will hold down forward spots, while serious size comes to the middle in the person of Atoumane Diagne, on loan to Limoges from FC Barcelona. It all add up to 10 new faces, which makes team chemistry challenge number one for Limoges going into the new season.
A new trio with varied experience will have the ball and the game management in its hands for Limoges. Sanford has scored in bunches in the French League and knows the terrain there well, but will make be making his EuroCup debut. The same goes for Christon, who shot with very good percentages in Israel last season and brings NBA experience. Most experienced of all might be Varanauskas, a pure point guard who has run offenses in at least five countries this decade while also making a name for himself as a world-class 3x3 player representing his native Lithuania. He will share time with the veteran Jonathan Rousselle, who has two years of EuroCup experience under his belt. Varanauskas will also know another EuroCup debutant, 32-year-old swingman Marcus Ginyard, as they both played in Poland last year. Yet another newcomer to Limoges, shooter Invernizzi, brings a year of EuroCup experience, back in 2015-16 with Nanterre, when he was a solid backup. If the 18-year-old Crusol can show some of what he has in a successful youth career, Limoges will have a backcourt full of options at Julbe's disposal.
It's not exactly an all-new forward rotation as Conklin played two seasons ago in Limoges and showed promise. He and Lang are the most experienced players on the team. Lang has three seasons in the EuroCup and one in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague to fall back on as a prudent shooter and steady presence. Mbala, originally from the Philippines, is taking a step up from the French second division but will be an important reenforcement in an otherwise short forward rotation. That is not the case with the centers, however. Diagne brings his 2.15 meters to try to give Limoges a major presence inside despite his youth, but at 20, he's two years older than Carene, who joined Crusol on some medal-winning French junior teams. The other returnee is 2.08-meter Jerry Boutsiele, who showed promise in his first EuroCup season with some big games, and at 26 years old, could be a difference-maker if he keeps improving.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Any team as new as Limoges needs an anchor while it gels, and forward Brian Conklin could be that person. The 30-year-old forward has experience behind him on several continents and has found success in most of them. He was the Australian League MVP in 2015, a champion in New Zealand and the Dominican Republic, a winner of both the French Cup and FIBA Europe Cup with Nanterre in 2017, and the Puerto Rican League's MVP earlier this year. As rebounder, defender and opportunistic scorer who doesn't need the ball a lot, Conklin is the kind of set piece that every coach who is starting a new project needs. That would be the case for Julbe and Limoges as they try to jump in and swim in a competitive EuroCup group. Expect Conklin to be the anchor they hold onto in that process.
Re-making an entire team is never easy, but having a veteran coach like Julbe on the bench will give Limoges some of the experience required to smooth out the rough spots. A lot will depend on the fully new backcourt, but the roles there seem pretty clear, which should help from the start. Limoges finds itself in a challenging group with two former EuroCup champs – Rytas Vilnius and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar – the Italian League champion Umana Reyer Venice, always-tough Partizan NIS Belgrade and Tofas Bursa. The devoted fans in Limoges will make their presence felt and their new team will need that support in order to squeeze itself in among the Top 16 contenders.