by Jeff Taylor
|Darrel Mitchell has already played for Khimik in 2009/10 and brings the experience of two EuroChallenge Final Fours with Proteas and BC Oostend|
Darko Russo doesn't know which team is going to show up when he coaches BC Khimik from week to week.
The team has been good enough to beat Azovmash, 86-70, only to then fall to Budivelnyk, 80-71.
What he does know is that in Ukraine, and the EuroChallenge, Khimik are going to have to bring their best week in and week out if they are going to have any success this season.
In Europe, they will go up against BC NN (Nizhny Novgorod) of Russia, Hungarians Atomerömü SE and Latvians BK Ventspils.
Khimik have the potential to win all of the games at home, and away, but they can just as easily lose every one of them.
If they repeat their performance against Budivelnyk on October 24, the prospects don't look good.
Russo was incensed with the team's lack of execution that day.
"Budivelnyk is a very serious team with very good coach," he said.
"You cannot start the game the way we did.
"We went out as if we were stronger than them ...
"My players must have forgotten that last year because Budivelnyk were the champions of Ukraine and at the same time, Khimik were 13th."
Khimik lacked, in Russo's words, "concentration from the first until the last minute" against Budivelnyk.
There is plenty of talent with Reyshawn Terry, big man Aaron McGhee, veteran guard Darrel Mitchell and Sasa Vasiljevic in the squad.
McGhee, who played for Team USA in 2005 and helped them qualify for the FIBA World Championship in Japan, is so far leading the team in scoring at 17.1 points per game.
Terry is proving to be solid both in scoring and rebounding with averages of 13.7 points and 8.4 boards.
Vasiljevic is a Bosnia and Herzegovina international who averaged 6.4 points and 5.4 rebounds this summer at the EuroBasket.
Some believed that Stanislav Zavadskyi would be a key man as he played with Khimik the past two years in the EuroChallenge and had a prominent role last season when he averaged more than seven points and almost six rebounds per game.
But Russo has been disappointed with the big man so far this season.
For those tracking young talent in Europe, there are two 19-year-olds who played for Ukraine at the U20 European Championship this summer in Bilbao.
They are 1.90m guard Oleksandr Prokopenko and the 2.16m, shot-blocking center Artem Pustovoy, a player who had seven swats in a game against Lithuania in Spain when Ukraine finished 10th out of 16 teams.
If Khimik have talent and potential, but a lot of uncertainty about how this season's EuroChallenge is going to unfold for them, the same can be said for their Group D opponents.
|Janis Strelnieks will be hoping to be in the same shape like in EuroBasket when the EuroChallenge season kicks off|
Ventspils know they are good enough to beat solid outfits.
They won the first leg of their Eurocup Qualifying Round tie against Azovmash, 75-74, but then fell in the second leg in Ukraine, 79-65, and didn't advance.
One reason why all Latvia fans should be getting behind Ventspils is that many of the players who competed for the national team at the EuroBasket in Lithuania are in the side.
Arturs Berzins, Janis Strelnieks and Martins Meiers played in Siauliai and are on the books of Ventspils.
Berzins, Strelnieks and Zakis have been with Ventspils in the EuroChallenge before and know what the competition is like.
Gundars Vetra, a former Olympian who had been serving as coach of UMMC Ekaterinburg in the EuroLeague Women, is now the boss of Ventspils.
BC NN won't be pushovers.
Bozidar Maljkovic, the coach of Lokomotiv Kuban, discovered that on Wednesday when the teams met and BC NN prevailed, 77-71.
It was the first victory for BC NN, who started with losses to CSKA Moscow and BC Khimki.
"We really wanted to win," BC NN forward Oleg Baranov said.
"We were tired of this situation, when we played well but didn't get the good result, so we had a lot of motivation against Lokomotiv Kuban and their lofty reputation didn't matter."
BC NN coach Zoran Lukic can be forgiven if he shows up a little bleary-eyed for practices and games in the coming weeks because he and his wife just welcomed their third child, Peter, into the world.
Meanwhile, Atomerömü SE are already battle-tested, having rolled to a decisive two-legged victory over Arkadia Traiskirchen in a Qualifying Round tie for the EuroChallenge.
Standing 3-1 in Hungary's top flight after last weekend's loss against Kecskemeti, all signs are positive that this will be a good season for the team.
• BC Khimik have begun the season with four wins in their first seven games in Ukraine's top flight.
• Atomerömü swept their EuroChallenge Qualifying Round tie with Austrians Arkadia Traiskirchen and won their opening three games in their domestic league before falling for the first time on the weekend.
• BK Ventspils were impressive at times against Azovmash in the Eurocup Qualifying Round, in Latvia, no team has beaten them yet while in the Baltic League they are 2-1.
• BC NN have begun 1-2 in Russia's PBL, though both defeats came against teams with far more spending power and tradition - CSKA Moscow and BC Khimki.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
|31. Ivan Paunic returns to BC NN after averaging 15.6 points per game in the EuroChallenge last season|
• Khimik have an impressive player in their ranks in Reyshawn Terry, a former standout at the University of North Carolina who has been a journeyman in Europe. One of the teams he has played for in Europe is Virtus Bologna. He was in the Virtus side that celebrated a EuroChallenge title in 2009.
• Much will be expected of Atomerömü guard Lorenzo Williams, who is key in terms of controlling the tempo and distributing the ball on offense while playing solid defense on the opposing playmaker.
• BK Ventspils fans have been excited by the performances so far of 24-year-old small forward Jahmar Young, who averaged 21 points in the Eurocup Qualifying Round tie with Azovmash and promises to be a handful for all Group D opponents.
• One of the big stories for Russia at EuroBasket 2011 was the play of surprise inclusion Semen Antonov. The 2.02m power forward wasn't just making up the numbers but proved to be a very good player for David Blatt coming off the bench. He is fearless, something Lokomotiv understood well when he scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds in their meeting this week.
DID YOU KNOW?
Gundars Vetra, the Latvian coach of BK Ventspils, was among the first players from the former Soviet Union to compete in the NBA. A player with a solid reputation, especially with his ability to knock down jump shots, Vetra had a brief stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
• Khimik are EuroChallenge regulars, having played in the competition every year since the 2004-05 campaign save one - 2005-06. Just once have they had a winning record and that was 2005, when the competition was known as the FIBA Europe League. Among their opponents last season was Ventspils, one of this season's opponents, and the Latvian club won both games.
• It's been a while since Atomerömü played in a FIBA Europe competition. They appeared in the EuroCup in 2007 but lost all six of their games. They had previously taken part in the Korac Cup (1996, 2000, 2001 and 2002) and the Saporta Cup (1999). Atomerömü, who also played in the 2003 FIBA Europe Champions Cup for Men, won Hungarian league titles in 2002, '05, '06 and '10. The team was swept by Albacomp 3-0 in last year's Hungarian Play-Off Semi-Finals.
• BC NN's lone run in the EuroChallenge came last season when they won two of their eight games.
• BK Ventspils were in the Korac Cup in 1998, the Saporta Cup the following two years, the FIBA Europe Championship Cup for Men in 2003 and the EuroChallenge in 2009 and last season. In 2011, Ventspils almost reached the Final Four but lost in the best-of-three Quarter-Finals to BC Oostende, 2-1.