|Two teams coming off disappointing seasons will look to start the new one on a high note when Unicaja hosts Le Mans Sarthe Basket at the Martin Carpena Sports Palace in Malaga, Spain, on Wednesday. Unicaja reached the 2007 Euroleague Final Four, but failed to reach the playoffs last season. Meanwhile Le Mans’s campaign featured 12 straight losses before finishing with back-to-back wins. But Le Mans has changed much since then, including starting fresh at the head coaching spot with former player J.D. Jackson taking over. The new-look squad features a fine mix of tough, defensive-minded players with some offensive aces to give Jackson plenty of ways to win basketball games. Meanwhile Unicaja also has a new coach, the great Aito Garcia Reneses, and upgraded on last season’s roster, although injuries have taken their toll as well. Unicaja has an overflow of talent in the backcourt, with Carlos Cabezas, Omar Cook and Joseph Gomis all capable of playing point, Jiri Welsch and Thomas Kelati on the wings and Carlos Jimenez at small forward. They will be challenged by Brian Chase, Dee Spencer and teenager Antoine Diot at guard and three-point marksman David Bluthenthal at small forward. In the paint, Unicaja returns Boniface Ndong and Marcus Haislip, but also boasts newcomer Robert Archibald and young Vitor Faverani. They will lock horns with Pape Badiane and Alain Koffi at center and Maleye Ndoye and J.P. Batista at power forward. Unicaja swept Le Mans last season, though the teams are dramatically different today. In fact only five players that scored in the last game between them are set to take the floor on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see how each team rises to the challenge of opening night. Unicaja has the experience to handle these situations better, plus the hunger that some of the newcomers bring along. Le Mans has a host of players looking to prove themselves plus the ability to play pressure-free as Unicaja is the favorite – especially as home. The key to the game for the visitors will be having it perimeter players get hot, thus creating space for the big men too. If Bluthenthal and Spencer can generate points and Chase can set up the big guys, Unicaja will feel the pressure. However if the hosts control the tempo and get their defense going, it will be a fun night for the fans in Malaga.
- Only four players on the Unicaja roster – Omar Cook, Vitor Faverani, Joseph Gomis and Thomas Kelati – enter the season without previous Euroleague experience.
- Swingman Jiri Welsch needs just 3 more steals to reach 100 for his Euroleague Basketball career.
- Head coach Aito Garcia Reneses coached two of his current Unicaja players, forward Carlos Jimenez and swingman Berni Rodriguez, to the silver medal with the Spanish national team at the Olympic Games in Beijing over the summer.
- Head coach J.D. Jackson will coach his first Euroleague game Week 1 at Unicaja.
- David Bluthenthal is not only the only player on the Le Mans squad to have won a Euroleague title, but he is the only one to have reached the Final Four.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008