Of course, the newest thing for Herbalife Gran Canaria is the very fact that the team will be making its Turkish Airlines EuroLeague debut after a string of impressive appearances in the 7DAYS EuroCup. Some might consider that more than enough for a debutant, but Gran Canaria clearly wants to memorialize its first EuroLeague season with plenty of victories, too. The team has brought in new faces to try to be competitive at the outset. EuroLeague experience comes with big man Kim Tillie, who returns to Spain after one year in Olympiacos Piraeus, and D.J. Strawberry, who preceded Tillie with the Reds. Clevin Hannah, Luke Nelson and Chris Evans are the other new faces on the roster, in addition to that of head coach Salva Maldonado, who otherwise made sure to keep most of the core group of players who brought Gran Canaria to this point.
The Gran Canaria backcourt will have plenty of experience from Albert Oliver, a EuroLeague rookie at 40 years old, who will be able to provide quality minutes off the bench. He will probably be the backup for Hannah and Nelson. The former will bring his scoring ability while the latter comes back from a one-year loan in Seville to show that he is ready for bigger things. Strawberry comes with one-and-a-half EuroLeague seasons under his belt and will be ready to make plays and defend. Xavi Rabaseda, whose EuroLeague experience includes back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2012 and 2013 with FC Barcelona Lassa, will play his fourth straight season with Granca. He has averaged 4.6 points over 54 EuroCup games in the last three. The linchpin of the Gran Canaria roster is Marcus Eriksson, who had a break-through season last year with 15.4 points in 14 EuroCup appearances. However, Eriksson underwent knee surgery during the summer, and his availability will depend on how well his recovery goes. In any case, Eriksson will have a solid backup in Oriol Pauli, who averaged of 7.5 points and 2.6 rebounds in the EuroCup last season, his fifth with the club. Small forward Evans arrives from AS Monaco, which he led to two domestic titles. Evans averaged 13.9 points and 4.3 rebounds in the French League last year and is expected to be a major contributor for Gran Canaria.
Inside the paint, Gran Canaria will feature familiar faces like Eulis Baez, who marks his seventh season with the club. He has averaged 8.1 points over four EuroCup seasons and is counted on for his strength and know-how. Among the other returnees inside is 2.17-meter center Ondrej Balvin, who made last season's All-EuroCup team thanks to his 10.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Also back are 2.16-meter center Anzejs Pasecniks (8.5 points and 3.9 rebounds) and 2.11 Lucas Fischer (4.3 points and 2.4 rebounds), assuring the Gran Canaria will have height to spare. This quartet of big men will be joined by Tillie, whose EuroLeague experience should prove a big asset for the team. Tillie battled an injury that kept him out of EuroLeague action most of last season, but before that he was a key player in helping Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz reach the Final Four in 2016. He will be ready to get back to his former self and contribute big to this Gran Canaria team.
PLAYER TO WATCH:
Sharpshooter Marcus Eriksson is no new face to the EuroLeague. He combined for a total 25 games in two seasons with FC Barcelona Lassa from 2015 to 2017, but he never played big enough minutes to show all he can do. In the summer of 2017, he landed in the Canary Islands and almost instantly became a go-to guy at Granca. He started in 11 of his 14 EuroCup games last season, averaging 15.4 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists. He was also second overall in three-pointers made (31) in the EuroCup and became a dominant player in that competition. Now, Eriksson is back to the top stage with a team that places a lot of trust in him whenever outside shooting is needed. He is already known for his gifted stroke and ability to hit tough shots under pressure. He should get plenty of opportunities again to lift Gran Canaria's spirits from the perimeter, and in so doing, give this team more chances to win games during its first EuroLeague season.
Gran Canaria has nothing to lose. The team that will have to travel the most this season is completely new to the EuroLeague, so the club, the fans and the city will try to make the most out of the experience. That hardly means that Granca will not try to compete, however. The club has kept a roster that showed big things in the EuroCup and has strengthened it with a few hand-picked names that could help the team mix it up at the next level. A lot of the players on the Gran Canaria roster will see this season as a proving ground for their futures, and you can bet that they will seize the challenge before them. Coach Maldonado won't have an easy task at hand, but if Gran Canaria can protect its court and steal a couple of solid wins on the road, then a wave will rise up from the islands and who knows how far it will roll.