|12 October 2004|
By Doug Booth, PA International
The Belgian title has proved elusive for Verviers-Pepinster in their history and the departure of two key players does not bode well for a breakthrough in 2004-5.
Runners-up last term, Pepinster still have to overcome the giants of Belgian basketball, Charleroi, and that has never been easy because of the financial support and strength of the Spirou club.
Indeed, two of Pepinster's better players, Damir Milacic and Kris Sergeant, have done the unthinkable and joined the arch enemy for this season.
Jean-Pierre Darding, general manager for the past 22 years, told PA International: "Everything is possible, I suppose, but Charleroi are much richer and stronger.
"Winning the league is not the goal for this season. We want to make the top four play-offs again."
Pepinster are in Group B of the FIBA Europe League and will host Turkish outfit Besiktas in their first game on October 26.
Darding's ties to the club go back to his playing days, so he should have a good idea about what the team can achieve and despite the departure of Milacic and Sergeant, he likes the make-up of the squad.
Adrian Autry and Marcus Douthit are two American signings with plenty of credentials to lift the optimism at Pepinster.
Douthit was chosen as the 56th draft pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in this year's NBA draft.
The 24-year-old center is 2.10 meters tall and is coming off a four-year career at Providence College in the Big East.
Experienced guard Autry, 32, was drafted by San Antonio after his university days at Big East outfit Syracuse - but that was 10 years ago.
He is a journeyman of European basketball, having played in Turkey, Germany, Italy, France, Germany and Russia.
Last season he was with Brandt Hagen in Germany before switching mid-season to Lokomotiv Novosybirsk in the Russian Superleague.
Veselin Petrovic, who won a European Championship gold medal with Serbia & Montenegro in 2001, has signed a one-year deal with Pepinster.
Wim Van de Keere and Raoul Heinen will add depth to the roster.
"We have recruited well, with five new players on the roster," said Darding.
Autry had 33 minutes and scored 12 points while Douthit played 26 minutes and poured in 21 points but Pepinster still lost their opening league game 84-81 to Oostende last Saturday.
"We were a little unlucky. It was a game we thought we could win," said Darding.
Pepinster can record their first victory on Wednesday when they play division three side Pitzemburg in the Belgian Cup.