LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne has a fresh face calling the plays following the coaching elevation of long-time assistant T.J. Parker, the brother of club president Tony Parker. The new man in charge has plenty of summer signings to call upon, including a return for experienced swingman Paul Lacombe, who first appeared in the competition as a teenager with ASVEL in 2009. Another battle-hardened arrival is scoring star Norris Cole, a two-time NBA champion who has joined from fellow French League side AS Monaco. His scoring power will be supplemented by Allerik Freeman, who averaged 18.5 points for Bursaspor in the Turkish League last season. The big man position has been reinforced by defensive ace Moustapha Fall, who is stepping up for his EuroLeague debut after appearing in the 7DAYS EuroCup with Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar a couple of years ago. Another center set to appear in the competition for the first time is Kevarrius Hayes, recruited from Italian side Cantu, and the list of summer signings is rounded out by forward William Howard, who spent last season in the United States and has prior EuroCup experience with Limoges and Dunkerque.
New arrival Lacombe will use his versatility and experience to quickly become a key player for coach Parker, while the scoring potential of fellow summer signings Cole and Freeman is an exciting prospect for ASVEL fans. The backcourt orchestrators will be a blend of youth and experience: in the latter category, 31-year-old Antoine Diot – heading into his second season with the club – offers plenty of calm assurance and veteran savvy. He will be supported by one of the hottest young talents in France in the form of Matthew Strazel, who turned 18 in the summer and will be looking to build on an impressive debut EuroLeague season. Rihards Lomazs, who made multiple three-pointers in a game on six occasions last season, adds further threat from the perimeter. Long-serving swingman David Lighty can still be relied upon for a steady stream of scoring, distribution, hustle and all-round leadership.
There is plenty of depth and versatility in ASVEL’s frontcourt, starting with one of the most intriguing players in this year’s EuroLeague: Guerschon Yabusele joined the club in February and averaged 8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1 blocked shot over his two games before the season was prematurely ended. Another pair of all-action performers are veteran Charles Kahudi and new signing Howard, who averaged 1.4 steals over his 34 appearances in the EuroCup. Inside the paint, summer arrivals Fall and Hayes are shot-blocking experts. With Ismael Bako and the versatile Amine Noua also looking to see an uptick in playing time, opponents will know that they must work hard to score inside against ASVEL.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Everyone knows about the scoring potential of Cole, who will surely be paid special attention by opposing defenses, but another man to keep an eye on is fellow summer signing Freeman. The 25-year-old has been a consistent scorer wherever he has played, averaging 16.1 points at North Carolina State University to earn an honorable mention in the Atlantic Coast Conference. His European journey began with Alba Fehervar in Hungary, where he averaged 15.6 points per game. Then came last season’s stint with Bursaspor in Turkey, which saw Freeman post 18.5 points per game, and if he can maintain that upward trajectory as he steps up to Europe’s top-level he could prove to be one of the signings of the season.
Home form will be vital for ASVEL, which claimed several notable scalps at Astroballe last season including CSKA Moscow, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, Olympiacos Piraeus and Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. A mid-season run of four home games out of five (between Rounds 14 and 18) could prove particularly significant in determining whether ASVEL can challenge for a playoff position, which would be a major achievement for an ambitious and fast-developing club containing plenty of young players under a first-time head coach.