|Vasiliy Karasev considers Krasnye Krylia to be favourites at the EuroChallenge Final Four|
By Dimitris Kontos
Triumph did not take part in the EuroChallenge, but another Russian team, Krasnye Krylia Samara, marched undefeated through the Regular Season, the Last 16 and the Quarter-Final Play-Offs to reach the Final Four in Izmir in imperial style.
After the big season-finale event of the EuroChallenge, Krasnye Krylia will return home to take on Karasev's Triumph in a eighth-final play-off series in the VTB United League.
And, according to the up-and-coming Russian coach, there is a strong possibility that his side's next opponents come back from Turkey with the confidence of a team who has just won a European competition.
"I think that [Krasnye Krylia] Samara have a very good chance to win the cup," Karasev told fibaeurope.com.
"The way they play, the way they are coached, the roster they have, is pretty much more than enough to win the EuroChallenge.
"Of course the German team [EWE Baskets Oldenburg] might be successful, or Pinar Karsiyaka because they are also good and they play at home, but I think their chances are smaller, compared to Samara's."
In order to earn a shot at that ambitious goal on Sunday, Krasnye Krylia will first have to overcome the hurdle of BCM Gravelines Dunkerque in the semi-final clash between the two sides on Friday.
"Samara might feel some kind of pressure, because already before the game they are the favourites, and it might be a factor," Karasev explains.
"This is just one basketball game, not a play-off series, and anything can happen in one game."
The experience of last season's EuroChallenge Final Four in Hungary has convinced Karasev that the most important thing for any team in such a situation is to hit the ground running.
"Everything possible must be well prepared in advance [for such a short tournament]," he asserts.
"The team, all the players must be ready psychologically, more than tactically, in a tournament like this."
SAMARA A TEAM FULLY ON TRACK
The weight of this preparation on the Kransye Krylia side falls upon their head coach, Sergey Bazarevich.
Karasev is six years younger, practically of the same generation as Bazarevich, and the two men coincided on Russian basketball courts during their playing days as point guards, before they started their coaching career.
Triumph have so far faced Krasnye Krylia once this season, back in November and lost 68-67 on a buzzer-beater from Dmitry Kulagin; Karasev believes the Samara side, who won the Russian Cup last week, have only improved since then under Bazarevich.
"He is doing a very good job this year, very good job," Karasev says of his colleague.
"Maybe at the beginning of the season there were new players and all needed time to try to understand what kind of system they were playing and so on," he says.
"After the new year [since January] I have been impressed by how Samara is playing, they have had some big games in the VTB League."
"So now they are fully on track as a team."
|21-year-old Nikita Balashov has developed into a key player for Krasnye Krylia|
"They have young and good Russian players," he points out.
"[Nikita] Balashov is a player who spreads the floor and is a good rebounder and helps them a lot.
"They have Kulagin who has a lot of potential, or [shooting guard Evgeny] Kolesnikov who is also a very good player.
"Any of these guys can have a very good game and make a difference for their team.
"The Russian players know their goal, know what they have to do for the team, and this is their strength."
LEAGUE STRENGTH IRRELEVANT
Should Krasnye Krylia be successful in Izmir, a fourth straight European trophy this season would end up in the hands of a Russian club.
CSKA Moscow could complete a clean sweep if they were to follow up with a triumph at the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four, in May.
To Karasev however, a semi-final against the French league leaders, in BCM, does not represent a clash between Russian and French basketball.
"I would say that, this year, several Russian teams have been successful in all European cups, but I don't think that French teams have had so much success, except Gravelines who reached the Final Four," he said.
"But [this game] is not about the Russian and the French league and which one is stronger.
"It's only about those two teams.
"The winner will simply be the one that was better prepared on the day."