|06 April 2006|
By Jeff Taylor
DKV Joventut began the year as one of the favourites to win the EuroCup and so far, nothing they have done suggests the title will not be theirs on April 9.
A club with a fervent fan base in the Catalan city of Badalona, DKV do not possess international superstars but they do have some of the most talented players in Spain and all of Europe so it's not surprising they have a semi-final date with hosts BC Kyiv in the EuroCup Final Four.
Spanish international Rudy Fernandez has been DKV's signature player for a couple of years now, ever since he earned the Copa del Rey MVP in 2004, an honour which led to his inclusion in the national team for the Athens Olympics.
DKV are not Rudy's team, though. DKV are simply a team.
|Rudy Fernandez is one of four DKV Joventut players averaging double-figure scoring|
Coach Aito Garcia and the DKV management laid the foundations for a successful campaign with an impressive summer recruitment.
They showed savvy by bringing in level-headed professionals who had either won championships, or played in very competitive leagues.
Elmer Bennett, a former college player at Notre Dame, is in the twilight of his career at 36 years of age, but Garcia loved what he saw in Bennett last season when he helped Real Madrid win the ACB title and signed him up.
Twin British towers Andy Betts and Robert Archibald have been solid additions.
After beginning his European career in Italy, Betts moved to Greece and won silverware with AEK Athens before switching to Spain and playing for Tau the past two seasons, including last year when they were runners-up in the ACB and the Euroleague.
Archibald spent a brief period in the NBA before moving to Europe and last year in Varese, where he was a vital cog in a side that reached the quarter-finals of the Euroleague. He has been slowed by injury this season but has nevertheless contributed.
DKV also moved for the Brazilian international Marcelo Huertas, fresh off his gold medal winning summer with Brazil in the FIBA Americas Championship.
Garcia brought in Czech international sharpshooter Lubos Barton (Lottomatica Roma) and Al Anagonye, formerly of Michigan State, Olimpija Juliana (Slovenia) and Livorno (Italy).
DKV have made headlines, too, because of Ricard Rubio, a 1.89m guard who is only 15 years old.
Yes, that is not a misprint - 15 YEARS OLD!
Rubio has appeared in five EuroCup games and averaged 2.4 points per contest. He was able to play a season-high 18 minutes against BC Khimki on January 10 in Moscow.
With youngsters like Rubio being given minutes in a competition like the EuroCup, it's no wonder Spain's national team is always among the best in international basketball.
Fernandez, a high-flying 1.96m guard has led the team in scoring in the EuroCup at 12.7 points per game while seven-footer Betts has poured in 11.4.
The unsung hero has to be Spain's Alex Mumbru, though.
In fact, the 2.1m forward is among the most unheralded players in all of Spain. Mumbru quietly goes about his business and kills opponents.
In the EuroCup, the 26-year-old is averaging 11.2 points, while shooting 54.8% (34 of 62) inside the arc, and 42.9% (21 of 49) from three-point range.
In the ACB, Mumbru has scored at a clip of 10.4 points per contest. During DKV's six-game winning streak in the Spanish top flight from February 12 through March 25, when they beat Granada, Girona, Alicante, Fuenlabrada, Estudiantes and Forum Valladolid, Mumbru has been sensational, scoring 11, 17, 13, 18, 21 and 20.
One secret to DKV's success has been they have quality in depth, rather than one player with amazing quality.
Tau, for example, have international superstar Luis Scola of Argentina while Barcelona boast Juan Carlos Navarro and Unicaja possess Jorge Garbajosa.
Betts, who has had moments where he carried the team, recently admitted he expected DKV to perform at a high level.
"I signed very late," he said. "Out of the teams I had offers from, I felt I had a chance to play here and this a great city.
"I just felt this team could do things."
DKV did have some nervous moments. In Round II, they finished with four wins and two defeats, just like fellow Final Four side BC Khimki and Ukrainian powerhouse Azovmash.
The Spaniards and Russians advanced on goal differential, however.
Only one team showed up for their quarter-final tie, with DKV blowing out Lokomotiv Rostov in two games.
DKV were geared up for a major battle but cruised 88-54 in Russia before returning to Spain and clinching an 86-57 triumph to advance.
Fernandez firmly believes the team can beat Kyiv but he knows they must be at the their very best.
"It's going to be a very hard game considering we play on the road against a very solid side," he said.
"We have to keep our feet firmly on the ground knowing that we have a chance to go all the way. This a highly competitive tournament and we want to win it."
The way things have gone so far for DKV, don't be surprised if they do cut down the nets in Kyiv.