By Jeff Taylor
Virtus BolognaFiere are only 40 minutes away from adding another glorious chapter to their rich basketball history but rest assured, "laid-back" Cholet Basket plan to prevent that from happening in Sunday's EuroChallenge final.
The French team overcame the significant hurdle of BC Triumph on Friday, winning 81-78, while Virtus led by as many as 22 points against Proteas EKA AEL before walking off the court 83-69 winners.
"If you go in there stressing and worried and stuff, you'll never play good because you'll be thinking too much," said Cholet's Randal Falker, the second-leading rebounder in this year's competition who is instantly
recognizable because of his 2.01m height, and his dreadlocks.
|Kevin Braswell will lead Cholet Basket against the home side Sunday.|
"I know I'll be going in there with the same mood as right now and that's laid back."
Virtus have won numerous Italian titles, Cups and even two European trophies, including the FIBA EuroLeague crown 11 years ago and the Euroleague title in 2001.
A museum on the second floor of the FuturShow Station arena commemorates the achievements.
The club owned by Claudio Sabatini almost claimed another piece of hardware earlier this year in the Coppa Italia but lost by a single point in Bologna to Montepaschi Siena in the Final.
"This team is very hungry," said Virtus center Sharrod Ford after pouring in 19 points and pulling down 13 rebounds in the EuroChallenge semi-final triumph over Proteas.
"We know what it's like to lose by a point in the finals and we don't want that to happen again."
Several thousand supporters waved Virtus flags and provided a constant buzz inside the arena on Friday as the Italians romped to victory.
It made for interesting listening for one of the Cholet players.
"I heard them yesterday," said Cholet point guard Kevin Braswell, who joined from Bosnia and Herzegovina side Siroki early in the campaign.
"I was doing the doping control. I was in a room far away from the gym and all I could hear was the crowd."
The fans can be a distraction, but it's the players that Cholet will have to overcome if they're to celebrate a championship and achieve one of their finest moments.
"Virtus are a really good team," said Braswell.
"In transition, we might not be able to stop them. In practice, we're going to work on transition defense over and over. In the half-court sets they didn't look at good as they did in transition."
Cholet does not have a lot of veterans.
"We're a young team," said Braswell, who had 19 points against Triumph.
|“||We know what it's like to lose by a point in the finals and we don't want that to happen again.||„|
"Me (30 yrs old) and Claude Marquis (29) are the oldest guys in the team. After that, the oldest player is 26 years old. Virtus have Earl (Boykins), Sharrod, Alex (Righetti) who's been playing in Italy forever.
"They've got a whole lot of depth, and a lot of experience."
Cholet showed they do have a lot of quality, though, in their triumph over Triumph.
No one was better than 2.04m center Marquis, a member of France's national team last summer.
Against Triumph, he had 20 points, seven rebounds and a couple of assists - the most important of which came in the final minute.
With the game knotted at 74-74, Marquis, with his back to the basket and closely guarded, passed to Grier who scored on an acrobatic drive and also drew a foul.
Cholet led the rest of the way.
The French club's power forward Falker, who averaged 8.6 rebounds in the EuroChallenge, can't quite believe that Cholet have made it all the way to the Final.
One of his fondest memories in the competition happened on March 25, the day of Cholet's deciding Game 3 win in the Quarter-Finals over BC Kyiv in France.
"It was definitely a great moment," he said.
"You could tell because everybody ran to the middle of the court and started jumping up and down. So the excitement was there. We're happy to be here, very fortunate."
Cholet have arrived in Italy feeling very good about their game.
The coach, Erman Kunter, has kept his players focused but at the same time, relaxed.
"The mindset was just go out and play and have some fun," Falker said of the win over Triumph.
When asked about the interior passing by Cholet that had been so crucial in the win over Triumph, Falker smiled and showed his sense of humor.
"Man, I think that was all Claude," he said. "They let him bang down there. If you have to practice against him every day, it's very unfortunate. I'm used to it.
"I felt for 'em (Triumph) when he was going on with some of those moves. I thought, ‘Umph, that hurt' and then ‘Wow, that one definitely hurt.'
"It was good to see him do it against other people."
If the attitude of Falker and Cholet on Saturday was to chill out at the team hotel, come Sunday it will be to go and get 'em.
"This is big," Braswell said. "This is my first European final. You don't get opportunities like this often."
BC Triumph will take on Proteas EKA AEL in the battle for third place.