|24 April 2014|
|Jure Zdovc: "The difference between us and Reggio is that we have a strong inside game and they don't" |
When it comes to sport, the enthusiasm and motivation of a hungry newcomer can produce an effect similar to that of an endless supply of precious rocket fuel.
"We are celebrating the club's first 40 years in September and, to us, reaching the Final Four of a European competition is almost like having stepped on the moon," Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia head coach Massimiliano Menetti told Italian daily La Repubblica on Thursday.
To win the EuroChallenge, the Italian coach added, would be like planting the flag on earth's satellite.
The first hurdle that stands between the Final Four hosts and the conquest of the moon is not the lack of rocket fuel reserves but another debutant in a European semi-final, Royal Hali Gaziantep.
Some believe that Gaziantep, a club that was not even competing in the Turkish top flight less than two years ago, is just happy to be in Bologna for the big event.
The Turks however earned their invitation to the party on the court and now that they are here, they intend to have the last dance.
"We came here to be first," Gaziantep head coach Jure Zdovc told fibaeurope.com on the eve of the semi-final clash.
"On my first day at Gaziantep, five months ago, I said the same thing and now we are much stronger than five months ago.
"We have quality; we have shown this because we beat Triumph, who for me are the strongest team, twice.
"Maybe we are a bit unlucky because we have to play against Reggio, but at the end of the day if you want to be first you have to beat everybody.
"My personal goal is to be first and I believe that my players feel the same way and they are not just happy to be here."
The two sides are then, theoretically at least, equally matched in terms of motivation and enthusiasm.
Gaziantep are well within their rights to consider though that they have the edge on another important aspect in this semi-final battle.
No matter how it's measured, in points allowed per game or points conceded per possession, the Turkish team have had the best defence in the EuroChallenge this season, giving up only 66 points per game to their opponents.
"For sure we are better defensively," Zdovc asserted.
"But, first of all, this is one game and anyone can play hard defence in one isolated game.
"Secondly, because they [Reggio Emilia] are very experienced, they can trick you with some clever switching and helps to steal the ball.
"This is something we need to control and don't make mistakes, to not give them easy baskets.
"I believe that we have an advantage if we play five-on-five."
"They have some great individual players, and we prepare for [Rimas] Kaukenas, [Andrea] Cinciarini, [James] White, [Troy] Bell, how we defend them will be very important.
"But we only play with one ball and five players must defend the ball."
Menetti also agrees that defence will be the key to this semi-final, and he is more than happy for the effort his players can put in it.
"Defence is our trademark and I am proud of it," the Italian coach said.
"Looking at our roster at the beginning of the season you would not guess that a team would emerge with defence in its DNA.
"But thanks to organisation and cohesion we managed to turn around games with defence."
|The experience of playes like Rimantas Kaukenas will be crucial in Reggio Emilia's maiden Final Four campaign |
Reggio Emilia came from behind and turned on their heads the two most crucial games in their EuroChallenge campaign, against Krka Novo Mesto on the final day of the Last 16 and in Game 2 of their play-off series against last year's champions, Krasnye Krylia Samara.
But these two enormous triumphs on the road were a bright exception for a team that generally struggles away from their home court.
The PalaDozza arena of Bologna is 75 kilometres from Reggio Emilia but, for all intends and purposes, Reggiana are playing at home in this Final Four.
"What Reggio Emilia have is that they play good at home, they've won all their home games, although now we are playing in Bologna and not in Reggio," Zdovc said.
"But playing at home can also bring added pressure and turn into a negative.
"They also have three, four very experienced players, with a character that can change the direction of a game."
Zdovc has mentioned those previously and they are all backcourt players. Does this mean that this game will be determined on the perimeter?
"No, the difference between us and Reggio is that we have a strong inside game and they don't", Zdovc offers.
"In their game, the guards come first and their big guys are finishers, they set screens and they take rebounds, but we play differently.
"We try to put the ball inside; we have good players under the basket."
We are more than likely to see robust defensive efforts in the second semi-final on Friday, which points to a probable low score.
It is highly unlikely for either team to pull away and make a clean break but then the contenders came prepared in general for a Final Four that will turn into a too close for comfort affair.
"Any of these four teams can win the cup, there is no favourite," Menetti said.
"Besides, the Russians [Triumph] and the Hungarians [Szolnok] have already played in a Final Four before, while Gaziantep and ourselves are newcomers."