|21 March 2012|
|Sergey Karasev, along with Triumph Lyubertsy teammates Evgeny Valiev and Dmitry Kulagin, proved on Tuesday that they represent the future of Russian basketball|
Stand up and applaud Triumph Lyubertsy and Szolnoki Olaj, a couple of true success stories in this season's EuroChallenge.
Each will serve as great examples to follow in the years to come.
Triumph proved that as long as a team stays alive in a competition, no matter how bleak the outlook may be, anything is possible.
The Russian side, for the second time in eight days, travelled to Spain on Tuesday and beat Mad-Croc Fuenlabrada in front of a boisterous crowd.
The 80-65 triumph gave Vassily Karasev's team a 2-1 victory in the Quarter-Final tie and threw the Russians into a Final Four showdown with French juggernauts Elan Chalon.
Szolnoki, meanwhile, showed teams all over that it's okay to dream big, even if it means going through a Qualifying Round just to make it into Regular Season.
The Hungarians, who fell 77-69 in Finland to Tampereen Pyrintö in the first leg of their qualifier back on 4 October but rebounded with a 69-57 win in the return leg to progress, sealed their place in the Final Four with an 82-78 victory in Game 3 of their Quarter-Final clash with BK Ventspils.
Like Triumph, Szolnoki also prevailed on the road.
They will now face Besiktas Milangaz.
THE FUTURE OF RUSSIA
Karasev engineered quite a turnaround for the team.
Serving as acting head coach when Valdemaras Chomicius had to leave the bench for health reasons, he never allowed his players to accept elimination in the EuroChallenge, even after they began with three straight defeats in the Last 16.
That string of losses meant that Triumph had to win three straight to reach the Quarter-Finals, and they did.
The toughest game of them all came against Pinar Karsiyaka in Turkey, and Triumph survived, 79-77.
The confidence began to grow.
When they came up against Artland Dragons and Antwerp Giants in their next two Last 16 games, the Russians rolled to decisive victories.
While Americans Tywain McKee and Jerry Jefferson and Canadian Kyle Landry have been terrific, as everyone expected them to be, the biggest plus for Triumph has been the great contributions of players that Vassily Karasev called on Tuesday night "the future of the Russian national team."
If anyone should know about the national team, it's Karasev. For many years he was the point guard for Russia.
|Szolnoki Olaj's Obie Trotter has been consistently one of the best point guards in the competition, averaging 17 points and 4.4 assists per game |
There are Evgeny Valiev, Dmitry Kulagin and Karasev's son, Sergey, three who appear to be certain Russia stars of the future.
The youngsters played their hearts out at Fuenlabrada on Tuesday, with each logging at least 22 minutes.
Sergey Karasev is just 18 while Kulagin is 19 and 2.05m forward Valiev, perhaps the most unheralded of the trio, is 21.
Hungarians Szolnoki never stopped believing in their chances, either.
They endured an 82-63 drubbing in Game 1 at Ventspils.
Their home-court has been a fortress the past two seasons in Europe and so it proved for Game 2, which Szolnoki won, 82-76.
On Tuesday night, the opportunity was there for Peter Por's team to crack when they fell behind by 14 points at Ventspils in Game 3, yet they did not.
It was as if Szolnoki knew how good they could be for the rest of the game if they concentrated and executed the coach's tactics.
"With every game our team looked better," Por said.
"After the first game we changed some details in our defense and offense and this helped us, and also because we showed character."
One aspect of the game that was crucial for Szolnoki was their free-throw shooting.
They made nine of 10 free-throws in the last 48 seconds to seal victory.
Obie Trotter finished with 20 points and hit six of those game-clinching free-throws in the last minute.
Julien Mills impressed with his work on the boards, pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds.
Akos Horvath remained red-hot from long range, making all four of his attempts.
The biggest key for both Szolnoki and Triumph to advance was the commitment to the team ethos.
Watching both games on Tuesday, it was obvious how the players trusted their coach, and each other.
Now the two sides are just two wins away from celebrating one of the finest moments in their history, a EuroChallenge title.
The Final Four will be held 27-29 April.