There are no walkovers. None.
Having already been a player, an assistant and a head coach at the Final Four level, this season brings another new experience for Evgeny Pashutin, who guides newcomer Unics Kazan of Russia during its very first Turkish Airlines Euroleague season. Pashutin, who won the Euroleague as an assistant coach at CSKA Moscow, also becomes the first head coach to blog on Euroleague.net, writing about the truly unique experience of lifting a new club into the Euroleague elite.
We've had a very tough start in our first Turksih Airlines Euroleague season, with two road games against Galatasaray and Prokom and two home games against the leaders of our group, Siena and Barcelona. Both Siena and Barcelona have twelve more or less equally effective players with lots of experience on their rosters. Actually, Barcelona's roster hasn't really changed that much since they were Euroleague champions in 2010...
We weren't able to show our best skills in those two games at home, first and foremost because we couldn't stop our visitors with defense, and because we couldn't handle the excitement. So even though we prepared specifically for those opponents, the psychological aspect didn't let us show our best qualities and play up to our potential. When you play against Barcelona and Siena, you can't allow them to run. You have to control the tempo and play defense-oriented basketball, forcing them to play half-court offense. If you don't allow them to run the fastbreak and score easy baskets, then you have a chance to succeed. This doesn't guarantee success though, because you have to play good offense at the same time.
In my opinion, Barcelona is one of the best defensive teams in the Euroleague right now. Their help defense is excellent, and their big guys like Boni Ndong, Fran Vazquez and Kosta Perovic control everything close to the hoop, making it very difficult to score easy baskets inside. They force their opponents to attack from the outside, and if you don't have a good day shooting three-pointers, your chances to succeed are very low. So you have to be well-prepared and confident to play against Barcelona's defense, you have to prevent them from running and scoring easy baskets, but you must also know how to attack them.
As for our two wins on the road, I would actually say that those two games weren't easier than the games we lost, because both Prokom and Galatasaray are well-balanced teams with great scorers on their rosters. For instance, Galatasaray has experienced leaders in Jaka Lakovic and Darius Songaila, as well as a group of strong Turkish players like Tutku Acik and Ender Arslan. So it was a tough task, but in those games we were able to control the tempo and hold the two teams under 70 points. Our offense was also more balanced and better organized, and when we missed, we challenged them defensively along every meter of the basketball court, forcing them to attack with a hand in their faces. This was crucial - even though we weren't able to do it all the time. That's how we were able to win.
We did a lot of things right in our two wins. Nevertheless, the score was tied, and the battle continued until the last seconds. That tells you something about the level of the Euroleague. There are no walkovers. None. Against each team you have to prepare and find a key to victory, and you have also to keep your concentration throughout 40 minutes as well as believe in victory until the very end. It takes a true team effort on both ends.
If you look at Unics, Henry Domercant has been our leader, but his performance is the result of whole team working together. One of his teammates has to set a screen for him, and another teammate has to give him the ball at the right time in order to create a situation where Henry can create and show his leadership skills. So it is a merit of the whole team, and I, of course, hope that it's only going to be better in the future, because Henry didn't play with us last season, so he needed time to adapt. All the players needed time to learn to understand each other and each other's roles on the team. For each game, we know more and more about each other. And I think and hope that will be able to improve with each successive game.
Rather than thinking of the whole regular season, we are taking it one game at a time, because we want to win every game we play next, but also because we respect all of our opponents and understand that every upcoming Euroleague game is going to be very difficult to win. Now we are preparing for Union Olimpija, with the mindset that this game isn't going to be any easier than the game against Barcelona. But I can promise our fans that we will fight for every single ball and that we will give our all to win in front of them. As I wrote in my first blog, our fans have been looking forward to this season for a very long time, and they are a great aid and help for our team. We are very thankful to them for their support in tough times as well as in victorious ones.
Evgeny Pashutin - Unics Kazan
Monday, November 14, 2011