UNICS has made sure to bring in plenty of EuroLeague experience to the roster with big man Alex Tyus and point guard Vangelis Mantzaris. They will be joined by Valery Likhodey, who returns to the team, Dmitri Uzinskii, a solid performer in the VTB League last season, and swingman Haukur Palsson, who has played in many leagues around Europe.
The UNICS backcourt starts with the ball in the hands of players deep in skill and experience, like Errick McCollum and double EuroLeague champ Mantzaris. Both have solid credentials and offer no doubts about their proficiency in running the team. One of their targets will be returning sharpshooter Jamar Smith, a former EuroCup champ who will give UNICS his lethal accuracy from long range for a third consecutive season. Pavel Sergeev will spend his sixth season in Kazan ready to contribute from the bench, and veteran sharpshooter Evgeny Kolesnikov extended his contract to continue, as well. Uzinskii is a new face who averaged 6.4 points and 3.2 boards in the VTB League at Nizhny Novgorod, the team with which he made his EuroCup debut in 2016-17. Small forward Likhodey returns to Kazan after playing in Poland. He was one of the players who led UNICS to the 2015 EuroCup Semifinals. Palsson will be ready to bring his solid numbers (9.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in France last season) to round up one of the most fearsome backcourts in the league.
Inside and around the paint, UNICS has placed a big bet on Tyus, a EuroLeague champ in 2014 and one of the top shot-blockers ever in that competition. He will be joined by Raymar Morgan, who will step in for his fifth EuroCup season after averaging 11.5 points with UNICS last year. Andrey Koshcheev has extended his contract with the club, expecting to become a more important player, while Kostas Kaimakoglou will be in his eighth straight season in Kazan. He has become a fan favorite in a city where he has played more seasons than in other teams of his native Greece combined. Artem Klimenko is the biggest man on the roster and last season he didn't have much playing time, but with the key departures that happened in the summer, he should be getting a good chance to prove his skills on the court.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Vangelis Mantzaris may be making his EuroCup debut this season with UNICS, but he does not, by any means, lack experience. He comes from eight straight EuroLeague seasons with Olympiacos Piraeus, where he won the title twice, in 2012 and 2013. In 210 EuroLeague games, he averaged 4.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists over the years and now he will be joining a backcourt full of point producers like McCollum and Smith to raise UNICS to organize the offense, play great on-the-ball defense, and take his new team to the next level.
There's no doubt that UNICS will have one goal in mind starting the new season: lifting the EuroCup trophy. Last season, the team was stopped by eventual champs Valencia Basket in the semis, but the team coached by Dimitris Priftis never backs down and will be back for another go at the glory. In order to achieve that, UNICS has brought invaluable experience at the highest level and also retained a few of the most important players from last season, as well as bringing back players who know the club and the city already. Group C will not be easy at all, but if UNICS manages to stay strong at home, making good use of the distance that the rest of the teams have to travel, a couple of road wins will put them on the right path to go far again.