2011 7DAYS EuroCup champion UNICS Kazan heads into the Top 16 with the aim of making another deep run in the competition. With 152 games won in competition history, UNICS trails Valencia Basket by two victories for the most all-time and getting that honor is just the tip of the iceberg for Coach Dimitris Priftis and co. this season.
Despite some injuries that have wreaked havoc on the UNICS rotation, the team won back-to-back games threes times to get through the regular season. Things did not go well early with an opening night loss at Umana Reyer Venice and the narrowest of wins over Bahcesehir Koleji Istanbul in the team's home-opener. A 91-93 loss at home against Joventut Badalona in Round 5 left UNICS's record at 2-2. Back-to-back wins over Reyer and Bahcesehir got the team back on track and back-to-back wins over JL Bourg en Bresse – one of which was a makeup game from Round 4 – lifted UNICS into the Top 16 with a game to spare. That final game against Joventut was for the top spot in Group A, but an 84-77 loss dropped the team to 6-4 and it placed second in the group.
Age has been just a number for Jamar Smith, who is enjoying a career season and making history almost every time he takes the floor. The 33-year-old shooting guard is shooting better than ever, as his 18.0 points per game and 58.3% from downtown are both career-highs. Smith ranked second in the regular season in the former and third in the latter. Whats’s more, he set the EuroCup record for three-pointers in a career early in the season and is now up to 234, while his 1,186 career points are eighth on the all-time charts and strong play in the Top 16 could have Smith as high as second in short order.
Point guard Jordan Theodore rejoined UNICS late in the regular season for a second stint with the club and the seasoned vet makes the team's backcourt stronger and deeper than ever. Theodore has stuffed the stat sheet with points and assists at every stop in his career – including in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague for AX Armani Exchange Milan in 2017-18 – and with what appears to be a sixth man's role this season, he could be at his best leading the second unit. The plan is for Smith and Isaiah Canaan to provide fireworks as the starters and then Theodore can take charge to ensure that opponents will always have to worry about the UNICS backcourt.
Did you know?
UNICS is the only team that has reached the EuroCup Quarterfinals in each of the last three seasons. The last time it failed to reach that stage was in 2016-17, when UNICS last played in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. The team has reached the final-eight stage nine times, which is the second-most of any club in competition history. Valencia Basket leads that chart with 11 quarterfinals appearances.
UNICS will fight onward in Group H, where it faces another traditional EuroCup power in Herbalife Gran Canaria as well as Mornar Bar and MoraBanc Andorra. The club has reached the elimination rounds in the EuroCup in each of its last eight seasons in the competition, dating back to 2010. In that time, UNICS has reached the semifinals four times and the finals twice. That tradition fuels UNICS to strive for greatness every time it takes the floor and this season's roster is surely worthy of another deep EuroCup run. When the team is healthy, the weapons at Coach Priftis's disposal can strike fear into opponents all over.