Antwerp is back in the EuroCup for the first time since the 2007-08 campaign and is in good momentum after lifting the Belgian Cup trophy the last two seasons and reaching the Basketball Champions League semifinals in 2019. Antwerp brings back 10 players from last season's roster while bolstering its backcourt with a couple of new additions and adding another new face at power forward. Niels Van den Eynde, who led the Belgian second division in scoring at age 19, and pass-first playmaker Kenneth "Speedy" Smith joined Antwerp's backcourt and are ready to prove their value in their EuroCup first season. Jalen Jenkins had a solid season with Belgian side Limburg United after stops in the United States, Iceland, Sweden and Bulgaria. This is a young and ambitious team that is low on experience at this level, but brings a lot of excitement and willingness to keep growing. Expect Antwerp to be an enthusiastic squad that is ready to challenge all the big names in Group G.
Smith may be among the most exciting playmakers to follow in the competition. He's a very quick guard, hence his nickname "Speedy" with outstanding ballhandling and passing skills who has just entered the prime of his career. At shooting guard, Stephaun Branch is a versatile, team-oriented player with great athleticism and mobility. A streaky shooter, Branch made 43.8% of his shots from downtown in 16 Finnish League games last season, but only 14.3% in 13 games with Antwerp in all competitions. The Van den Eynde brothers, Neils and Bastiaan, reunite in Antwerp this season. Neils is an undersized, explosive scorer with great shooting range and determination. His adjustment to a much tougher level will be interesting. Bastiaan comes off the bench to provide outside shooting and intensity. Silky swingman Dennis Donkor can use his all-around scoring skills to surprise most opponents, while Neils de Ridder offers physicality, intensity and tough defense.
David Dudzinski and Roby Rogiers will split most of the minutes at center. Dudzinski is a modern big man who can pull the trigger from downtown or use his size and great hands to score around the basket. Rogiers will come off the bench to do what he does best - set good screens, work hard in the paint and power the offensive glass for second-chance opportunities. Jenkins arrives to open the floor from the power forward spot. He is also an excellent offensive rebounder. Ibrahima Faye offers blocked shots, rebounds, intensity and physicality. His energy and defense will be important throughout the season. Vincent Kesteloot is a great team player; he's versatile, aggressive and seems always ready to use his quickness in one-on-one situations. He will see playing time at both forward spots. Vrenz Bleijenbergh, a 2.06-meter small forward, is an intriguing prospect and Thijs De Ridder, Niels's younger brother, is a terrific rebounder at both ends. Both of them will have to fight for extra playing time to show their value.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Smith comes to a team that was already strong at a critical position: starting point guard. A late bloomer, Smith gained experience in the D-League after a disappointing first experience in Latvia and is now back in Europe hoping to be one of the assist leaders in the EuroCup next season. He managed to finish atop the charts in the Hungarian League (7.3 apg.) with Szolnoki Olaj and the Belgian League (8.1 apg.) with Spirou Charleroi last season before dishing 7.6 assists with Maccabi Haifa (7.6 apg.) in the Israeli League. Smith can be counted on to put the ball in the right place and also to score. He uses his speed and ballhandling to create shots, whether by driving to the basket or stepping back from long-range. Smith may surprise a lot of EuroCup fans as he looks to make some noise.
Its recent success in domestic competitions allow Antwerp to be ambitious, but it will only do well in the EuroCup if it takes one game at a time. Antwerp is in a group that features a past EuroLeague champion (Virtus Segafredo Bologna), EuroCup winner (Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar), powerhouses in recent seasons (AS Monaco and MoraBanc Andorra) and another ambitious squad in Lietkabelis Panevezys. Having a core of players back from last season works in its favor, though Antwerp plays three of its first four games on the road. If the team manages to be competitive right away and get some valuable road wins, it will be on the right track to challenge for a Top 16 spot, as it would play four of the next five at Lotto Arena.