|23 February 2006|
If Khimik coach Zvezdan Mitrovic had been asked to write down all he knew about Finnish basketball a month ago, the resulting information would likely have covered little more than a postage stamp.
But, after seeing his side drawn against Lappeenranta in the semi-finals of the FIBA EuroCup Challenge, Mitrovic has been forced to play catch up pretty quickly.
And a few weeks of study has given Mitrovic plenty of food for thought.
"The game against Lappeenranta promises to be no easy stroll for us,''
admitted Mitrovic ahead of Friday's game in Yuzhny.
"I have been really surprised while preparing for the match. I think the Finns are the strongest team we will meet in EuroCup Challenge after
Khimik lost both of their meetings with Ural-Great Perm earlier in the competition, going down 87-86 in Russia and 76-73 in the return meeting in Ukraine.
Despite those defeats, Khimik are still going strong and joined Ural-Great in making it through to the semi-finals after defeating Cypriot side Apoel Nicosia in the last eight.
Lappeenranta made it into the semis after overturning a first-leg deficit to claim a 167-159 aggregate win over Hungarian side Debreceni Vadkakasok, a feat that did not go unnoticed by Mitrovic.
"They showed some real power in the second leg to eliminate the 15 points they trailed by. This fact proves Lappeenranta are a serious opponent,'' he added.
"Lappeenranta have some fine players. American Matthew Williams and one of the best Finnish players Pasi Riihela are really good in the small forward positions.''
Riihela is averaging 19.6 points and eight rebounds per game in eight EuroCup Challenge matches while Williams has weighed in with an average of almost 16 points and seven rebounds.
Mitrovic also singled out Dane Chanan Colman as a player to watch.
"Colman is a very fast point guard so we need to take control of him. And of course we should give no less attention to 2.18m center Chris Christoffersen.''
Mitrovic's recently-acquired respect for Lappeenranta is apparent, but that doesn't mean he is discounting his side's chances.
"We had a good warm-up in the Ukrainian Cup last 16 against Cherkaski Mavpy, beating them twice,'' he said.
"Right now all my players are ready for the Lappeenranta challenge.''
He added: "We need to be aggressive in defence. If we do this we can
advance to the final.
"I am preparing my players for a hard fight. I am sure that they realise
the threat of Lappeenranta and won't underestimate them.''