By Jeff Taylor, PA Sport
The rigours of a busy season caught up with BC Khimki in March so the club applied the brakes and told the players to rest their engines.
For 11 days, Khimki's players, who will take part in their second straight EuroCup Final Four on April 7 & 9, did not so much as pick up a basketball.
At least they didn’t have to.
The club's official website reported: "We have 11 days without games and have decided to give a short rest to the players.
"The foreign players had the opportunity to visit their homes. Now the rest is over and the team is ready to play and we have started to prepare for the forthcoming games."
Khimki are a team loaded with seasoned professionals and will like their chances in Kiev, Ukraine, where they face Dynamo St Petersburg in a rematch of last year’s FIBA Europe League semi in Istanbul.
The winners will take on either BC Kyiv, the hosts, or DKV Joventut Badalona.
Ruben Wolkowisky (Argentina), Oscar Torres (Venezuela), Gianmarco Pozzecco (Italy), Alexander Petrenko (Russia), Boris Gorenc (Slovenia) and Melvin Booker (United States) are the core of the Khimki side - players most coaches would want in their sides.
|EuroCup All-Star Gianmarco Pozzecco has averaged 11 points in his first season with Khimki|
Alarm bells began to ring on March 18, though, when CSKA Moscow destroyed Khimki in their Superleague encounter.
"Our players are just burned out psychologically,” Khimki coach Serguei Elevich had said. “CSKA played the game at a higher level and their reserve players were stronger than ours."
Hence, the decision to take some time off.
Khimki are a great example of how the sport has taken off in Russia the past couple of seasons.
The purse strings have been loosened at many of the clubs and big-name players like Wolkowisky, Torres and Pozzecco have signed up.
Wolkowisky was a key member of the Argentina side that captured gold at the Athens Olympics and, along with Torres, Booker and Petrenko, played on the team that lost 92-81 to Dynamo St Petersburg last year in Istanbul.
Pozzecco is a flamboyant playmaker who arrived at Khimki in the summer.
He was looking for a fresh start after a controversial end to his Climamio Bologna career. The club suspended Pozzecco for a large part of the season after he made ill-judged remarks to his coach, Jasmin Repesa, in the changing room during a game.
Il Poz is one of the most colourful characters in all of Europe and, when on top form, is a nightmare to play against. The 1.8m Pozzecco, 33, was instrumental in Italy’s silver-medal run at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
He averaged 11 points and dished out 3.6 assists per game this season in the EuroCup.
Pozzecco was voted to the EuroCup All-Star Day.
The 32-year-old Gorenc, a 1.98m shooting guard, wasn't in Istanbul, either. He is not a celebrity like Pozzecco who, among his many talents, is a columnist for Gazzetta dello Sport.
But the Slovenian is important to the Khimki cause.
He is the team’s fourth leading scorer in Europe, averaging 12.4 points in his 12 games.
Maybe the best way to understand Khimki and their potential is to look through the eyes of the coach who will try to beat them on April 7.
Fotis Katsikaris, the Dynamo St Petersburg coach, has a lot of respect for Khimki and what they have been able to accomplish.
He knows he has his work cut out if Dynamo are to win that semi and go on to capture another crown.
"They are an offensive-oriented team," Katsikaris said. "They have a big rotation and with talent and experience.
"They have players with the correct chemistry, players with big personalities who can decide the game, and that makes them very, very strong contenders."
Khimki go deep to their bench, and they have tremendous balance.
In addition to Pozzecco and Gorenc, Wolkowisky averaged 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds in the EuroCup, with Oscar Torres (14.7pts, 6.5 rbs), Alexander Petrenko (12.5, 5.2) and Booker (12.2, 2.9, 3.6 assists) also in double-figures scoring.
Khimki needed three games to beat Dexia Mons-Hainaut in their quarter-final, but they advanced. Hopefully for Elevich, the team is not "burned out psychologically".
"The most important thing is the psychological preparation,” Katsikaris admitted.
Khimki split their two games with DKV Joventut in Round II, and they split their two Superleague contests with Dynamo St Petersburg.
Therefore, it could be argued they have a 50% chance in Kiev against Dynamo, and will also have against DKV should they upset hosts Kyiv in the other semi-final.