|Paris head coach Christoph Denis is confident BCM Gravelines have the goods to bring the EuroChallenge Final Four trophy back to France|
By Dimitris Kontos
The 37-year-old French tactician knows two of the contenders for the EuroChallenge title in-depth; has studied many games of a third; and his team played two games at the Final Four venue, Karsiyaka Arena, as recently as March.
The Parisians have faced BCM Gravelines, the French semi-finalists, a total of four times this season and were eliminated in the quarter-final play-offs by the Turkish hosts, Pinar Karsiyaka, with a 2-1 score.
Intrigued by Krasnye Krylia Samara's undefeated run in the competition, Denis also took the time to follow the Russian team in order to determine the secret of their success.
Krasnye Krylia will go up against BCM in Friday's first semi-final, and his French compatriots are exactly the side that, according to Denis, can drop the big bombshell in Izmir.
"If Gravelines beat the Russian team in the semi-final, they will win the EuroChallenge," he states categorically to fibaeurope.com.
"Whoever their opponent is in the final," he adds with the same conviction, even before there is time to ask the question.
"The big step for them will be to get past Samara.
"Gravelines has a big squad, they have 11 players ready to play.
"They have a great bench and players with a lot of experience which have done very well this season in Europe and in France.
"They have won some games in the French League (Pro A) even without playing so well, because they know the way to get the win."
Thanks to this ability to grind out results, BCM are leaders of the Pro A with a 20-9 record and have also won the Leaders Cup (formerly Semaine des As) on the domestic front this season.
But what if they don't replicate this form in the unknown surroundings of Izmir? The verdict of Denis is crystal clear in that case.
"Normally (he stresses this word), the final should be between Karsiyaka and Samara," he declares.
"Karsiyaka play very good basketball, very good.
"They are a very good defensive team, defence is a collective effort and at home they are a very, very tough team.
"But, in my opinion, playing in front of their fans they might be under pressure in the semi-final so, for me, it might turn into a disadvantage.
"At the same time of course they want this cup so much and they have showed they can play under pressure.
On the other hand, there is the one side in the competition that still enjoys an invincible status and can only be considered as the team to beat.
"Samara have not lost a single game in this competition, so normally they are the favourites to win the cup," Denis says.
"But for me the question in the Final Four is not who is playing at home or who is playing under pressure, or who is the favourite.
"The question for me is the quality of basketball [that these teams will play].
"Samara play good as a team, and Karsiyaka too.
"To me however, the key to the title might be defence.
"And Gravelines are also very good defensively [like Karsiyaka].
"So be careful, because Gravelines is a very, very good team," Denis warns.
|Injuries to key players such as Jawad Williams hurt Paris Levallois in the quarters against Pinar Karsiyaka|
THE EUROCHALLENGE EXPERIENCE
Paris missed out on the EuroChallenge Final Four after being forced to play almost the entire play-off series against Karsiyaka without their starting power forward, Jawad Williams, and a big part of it with star center Sean May, the second-leading scorer in the competition, nursing an injury he picked up midway through the first encounter.
They would probably be well within their rights to feel bitter, to feel that they should be in Izmir, to be among the semi-finalists.
Not Denis though, a true sportsman, who clarifies that all fours teams which will compete in Turkey at the weekend earned their shot at the trophy on merit.
"For sure, for sure, there is no question that all four absolutely deserve it!" he states without any hint of doubt.
"Even though in the quarter-final we came close, these are the four teams that deserved to reach the Final Four, 100%.
"We cannot say that we would be there if we had no injuries or anything like that, no.
"This is sport."
So there are no regrets in Paris for having embarked on a EuroChallenge campaign that ended in unceremonious fashion?
"Not at all," says the coach of the Parisians.
"Overall the situation for the club, the team, the young players, for me as a coach, it was a great experience, although now at the end of season we are a bit down (tired) and we had injuries and long travels.
"But what counts is that we saw different basketball, a different approach to what we see every day in France.
"We travelled, we met a lot of nice people of the sport in Europe; we played good teams like Karsiyaka for example.
"And when, after all this, we reached the quarter-finals, you cannot say for a minute that all this was for nothing.
"We played 15 games in the EuroChallenge, it helped us a lot and I think and I hope that this competition has to stay like this in the future.
"I really believe that the level of this competition will get better year after year."