MBC Nikolaev are chomping at the bit to play in the EuroChallenge Qualifying Round 1.
It is, their general manager Valentyn Berestnev says, a great opportunity for the club's youngsters to gain valuable experience in Europe.
Berestnev spoke to FIBA Europe ahead of Tuesday's home clash with Deutsche Bank Skyliners.
FIBA Europe: Valentyn, what does the return to a European club competition mean to your team?
Valentyn Berestnev: People in our city love basketball and our team always plays in a sold-out gym. High quality European level games are a gift to our fans. Plus, we have a group of young players that will receive priceless international experience in at least two games.
FIBA Europe: Are you satisfied with your roster and with the pre-season work your team had?
Valentyn Berestnev: During the summer we worked according to the plan head coach Vladimir Poliakh had prepared. We finally got a chance to have six international friendly games in the Baltic States, so I think we can be happy with the pre-season preparations. Regarding the roster - basically, we got what we wanted. We could have asked for more, but had limited funding. We definitely got stronger, but time will show whether it's going to help us get higher in the standings. We used to get our wins against the teams that are no longer in the Superleague and most of the remaining clubs, with the exception of Poltava and Pulsar Rivne, are much stronger than us. Our game against Sumykhimprom showed that we can match them, but they are way closer to us than Donetsk, Kyiv or Azovmash.
FIBA Europe: How about the shape of Nikolaev? How close is it to what you wanted it to be at this stage?
Valentyn Berestnev: The fact that a group of players was with the national team all summer makes things more difficult for us now. When they joined our club they were way behind the rest of the group both tactically and physically. We had spent two months working on set plays, making their execution automatic. And while we worked out on the sand or on a track, they were in a game mode - game, day off, flight, practice, game... This is normal. When I was the head coach of the national teams, I returned the players to their clubs in the same conditions. But they are catching up very quickly and will soon be on the same page with everyone else. Of course no one ever gets the team into its ultimate shape early in the season, so you will see our progress from game to game.
FIBA Europe: Did the time this group of players spend with the national team help them improve?
Valentyn Berestnev: Oh yes, big time - especially mentally! Playing and practicing alongside Artur Drozdov, Serhiy Lishchuk and against top level European teams made them realize they can perform at a totally different level. I think that now they will be improving much faster than those teammates that hadn't been invited to join the national team.
FIBA Europe: What do you know about your Skyliners?
Valentyn Berestnev: We've got their game videos and are now preparing for the game according to the head coach's plan.