Kenny Gregory will welcome his old teammates to town Thursday when Efes Pilsen hosts Le Mans Sarthe Basket on Thursday for a Group B meeting at the Abdi Ipekci Arena in Istanbul. Gregory made his Euroleague debut last season with Le Mans, leading the team in scoring with 14.9 points per game in 14 Euroleague appearances. Both teams come into the game feeling a bit unlucky to have losing records. Efes Pilsen is 1-2 after beating Armani Jeans Milano at home by 10 in Week 2, but led in the second half in both losses this season. Le Mans is still winless, but its three losses have come by a combined 12 points. These two teams also met last season in the Euroleague regular season. Gregory led Le Mans with 21 points and 10 rebounds as Le Mans set a Euroleague record by holding Efes to 3 third-period points in a 53-64 win in Istanbul in November, while Drew Nicholas had 14 points and 4 assists as Efes won in France 67-71 in January. Both Nicholas and Gregory are among the Efes Pilsen leaders this season, joining big men Andre Hutson and Loren Woods and guards Scoonie Penn and Serkan Erdogan on a deep Efes squad. Head coach David Blatt's team has played efficient basketball this season and could become a real threat in close games as it leads the league in free-throw shooting percentage and Hutson leads the league in both free throws made and free-throw shooting percentage. Big man Sam Clancy has been Le Mans's top player inside, while teenager Nicolas Batum, who played behind Gregory last season, has shined with his all-around game. Other Le Mans weapons include the outside shooting of Luka Bogdanovic and the uplifting performances of Raviv Limonad off the bench. Naturally the most interesting matchup to look forward to in this game pits former teammates Gregory against Batum, however the depth of Efes's inside rotation with Hutson, Woods, Ermal Kuqo and Kerem Gonlum, which faces Clancy, Philip Ricci and Alain Koffi, could be where the game is decided. This game should be a high-intensity affair, as both teams feel real pressure due to their records. Efes can ill-afford to lose a game at home, while Le Mans can't risk an 0-4 start if it fancies a spot in the Top 16.
Efes Pilsen head coach, David Blatt
"Our group is providing many close games, many tough matches and Le Mans has been competitive in all their games. And they're a team to be respected. A mixture of very talented young players and a few veteran players who give them stability. They play good basketball and they are well coached. We have to be ready for the challenge. And I believe we will be. It’s good to come back to home to Abdi Ipekci where we had great support from our fans against Armani Jeans Milano and we look forward to the same thing on Thursday."
Efes Pilsen forward, Mustafa Abi
"This is another critical game waiting for as like any other match. When you look at the games that they lost, it’s easy to see that they really came close to winning them all. They are a very good team which nobody can deny. The good thing is that we will play at home. This makes a difference for us, but the important thing is that to play at home is not enough to win in this league. We have to challenge and to work hard, to stay focused for all 40 minutes."
Le Mans Sarthe Basket head coach, Vincent Collet
"We've had three games in the Euroleague and three frustrating defeats. It’s an urgent matter for us to win our first game, even if it will be difficult this week because Efes Pilsen needs a win, too. Efes has a strong team inside the paint that we’ll have to control. The same goes for their shooters, Erdogan and Nicholas, without forgetting our former player, Kenny Gregory, who is really difficult to stop on his drives. We want to ncrease our level to try to reach our goal: to get our first Euroleague victory this season!"
Le Mans Sarthe Basket center, Phil Ricci
"We know it will be a tough game in Istanbul for us, with the Turkish crowd, an impressive team and Kenny Gregory, who I knew when he was in Kansas University and who also was playing here in Le Mans the last two seasons. But we have to be focused on this game the whole week, to do what we have to do, not only during 39 minutes like in our first three games, but the full 40 minutes. We are still learning because we are a young team, but we are improving. We showed that we can be competitive and not let the opponents overwhelm us. In this competition, we should have won in Tel Aviv and maybe the other results would have been different since. The other teams can't take us lightly, though."
Wednesday, November 14, 2007