New club, new country, same ambition
Hello to all of you Euroleague fans! This is my first blog and I am excited to be talking to you about the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Qualifying Rounds that take place next week in Italy. At this moment I am on the flight from Istanbul to Kazan, Russia. My new team, Unics Kazan, has spent a week or so in Antalya, Turkey taking part in the Rixos Cup Tournament to get ready for our first goal of the season – to quality for Euroleague!
My summer vacation was cut short to join my new team in Kazan on August 1, the reason being that the Euroleague qualifiers are held at the end of September. This qualifying round is a very important goal for us as we will battle against seven other teams for one spot in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Regular Season. Some good teams will be there, all of them eager to quality, too, I am sure. It's difficult playing such important games this early, especially when it's a knockout situation, meaning that if you lose any game, you're out! I am sure it will be a very exciting tournament and I believe that if we play up to our potential we will have a good chance of winning it. Of course we are not 100-percent ready for this challenge, but then again no team I think can be totally ready this early on.
My Unics Kazan journey started early when I came to Russia with my friend and former Panathinaikos teammate Kostas Kaimakoglou. The two of us made a life-changing decision when we opted to sign with Unics, and in some ways it has already paid off. From the first moment, the players, coaches and staff made us feel welcome in our new home. We spent the first week or so at Vasilevo, a training camp located about an hour outside of Kazan and owned by the team. It is a complex with a hotel, basketball court and gym combined. Most of the team was there, except for the later signings. There, we started building out team chemistry and, of course, getting in basketball shape.
After that we took a couple flights and buses to Bormio, Italy, where I had never been before. We were most pleased with the hotel and facilities that were offered to us. In Bormio, we were joined by our American players: Terrell Lyday, Mire Chatman and Chuck Eidson, so the team started to really take shape as these are three of our main players at the guard position. We played a couple of exhibition games with Galatasaray and Avellino in Bormio, and it was good to play again after a couple of months without games.
Next on our schedule we stayed in Kazan for about 10 days and I was able to practice on my new homecourt, which over the summer had been given a new floor. After again a couple of exhibition games with a local university team, we left for Antalya and the RIxos Cup. In the first game, we suffered a heartbreaking loss to Banvit, losing at the buzzer with 0.6 seconds remaining. Then, for the second time in the preseason, we faced Galatasaray, this time with more of their players than before. Galatasaray is, in my opinion, a very good team that should be in the Euroleague and will definitely shine in the Turkish League and Eurocup. They outplayed us this time, so the next day we had a consolation game against Cibona Zagreb, whom we beat. It was good to leave Antalya with a win, as I believe it is very important for the team psychology.
This team is new, with a new coaching staff, so it has been and will be difficult at times to have everything run smoothly. It is definitely an adjustment for me as it's the first time that I have played for a club team other than a Greek one. I have been on the team now about a month and a half, though, and I can say for certain that this a great bunch of guys and we are eager to have a good season. I believe that making it to the Euroleague will make the season better as we will play against better competition. In addition, if we make it, we will be placed in the same group as my former team, Panathinaikos, so this is extra motivation for me and Kostas. We would be both happy to play in OAKA arena again, since we have had some very good memories in that building and will like to add some more.
Now, I am getting back to Kazan around 3 a.m. and have the morning off before practice in the afternoon. I am sure everyone on the team will be focused as we don't have many practices left before the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Qualifying Rounds, next week in Desio, Italy. Between now and then, we need to try and iron out as best as possible all the kinks in our games, both as a team and as individuals. It's great to play with a whole new bunch of players and personalities. We are all trying to figure out each other’s strengths and weaknesses so we can use them to our advantage come game time.
That's it for now. I'll check back in with you guys in the coming days!
Ian Vougioukas - Kazan, Russia
Tuesday, September 18, 2012