After coming up short in the 7DAYS EuroCup Semifinals last season, Virtus Segafredo Bologna starts afresh with big goals for 2021-22. There will be a new legendary figure on the sidelines in head coach Sergio Scariolo, who himself makes his return to European club coaching for the first time since 2013-14 with Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. Scariolo, who led Spain to the gold at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, will have plenty of weapons at his disposal and the club must be considered a favorite for the EuroCup crown.
Scariolo has an embarrassment of riches and his backcourt troops will allow him to do a lot of things style-wise. Milos Teodosic is back and, as always, will set up people - even if they don’t realize they are being set up. The club made a big splash in the backcourt with the addition of Italian national team player Nico Mannion, who will be playing in Europe for the first time. However, Mannion may miss the start of the season. Virtus made major headlines last season when it added Marco Belinelli, and the veteran is back as team captain - and scoring ace to go to whenever the team needs a basket. Shooting guard Ty-Shon Alexander will make his European debut as another serious scoring weapon for the Virtus attack. The backcourt also features Alessandro Pajola, who is an absolute menace on defense. His 4.72 steals per 40 minutes last season was tops in the EuroCup. Point guard Michele Ruzzier and shooting guard Marco Cerron complete the incredibly deep backcourt rotation.
The team’s frontcourt is also loaded despite the injuries to former All-EuroLeague First Team selection Ekpe Udoh and small forward Awudu Abass. Power forward Kevin Hervey showed last season what he can do in his European debut, helping Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar reach the EuroCup quarterfinals. French big man Mouhammadou Jaiteh led the Turkish league in rebounding last season with Gaziantep Basketbol and will look to dominate the glass in the EuroCup. Amedeo Tessitori and Amar Alibegovic are back to help patrol the proceedings around the basket. Jakarr Sampson was the latest addition. The aggressive big man will make his EuroCup debut after playing parts of six seasons in the NBA. With Abass sidelined, Kyle Weems, who doesn’t seem to be slowing down at 32 years of age, will play most of the minutes at small forward, though it is only natural to expect Virtus to use some three-guard lineups, too.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Virtus surprised many observers when it announced the signing of Nico Mannion, who shined for Italy at the 2020 Olympics. Mannion will make his debut in Italy, where his father Pace Mannion played for many years and helped Cantu to the 1991 Korac Cup title. After a virus sidelined him for training camp and Mannion lost some weight, he will have an uphill climb to get back to top form. Even then, Mannion might have some early stumbles as he gets used to the European style. But the guard should thrive with his dynamic game - featuring a lethal drive to the basket and ability to finish above the rim. Also working day in, day out with the likes of Milos Teodosic and Marco Belinelli will do wonders for his understanding of the game and his place in the offense. When he gets going, Mannion may be one of the most exciting players to watch this season in the EuroCup.
It’s hard not to think that the mindset for Virtus entering the season is championship - and getting the storied club back to the EuroLeague – or bust. New head coach Sergio Scariolo knows how to win and the likes of Teodosic, Belinelli and Mannion definitely give Virtus the weapons to get it done. This team has loads of offensive firepower and it will be up to the defense to deliver when it matters most. But it seems like a certainty that the club will have a say in who wins the trophy.