Södertälje Kings Basketbollklubb are gearing up for their second consecutive season in the EuroChallenge but in the meantime have left little doubt that they intend to maintain possession of their domestic crown.
The reigning Swedish champions cruised to a third win in as many games in the Basketligan over the weekend, claiming an 101-68 comfortable victory over ecoÖrebro at home.
|Toni Bizaca and Södertälje Kings are unstoppable in Sweden|
Point guard John Roberson went 4-for-5 from behind the three-point arc and paved the way for Södertälje with 18 points and four assists, Croatian power forward Toni Bizaca added 16 points, while Martin Pahlmblad finished with 15 points and two rebounds.
"It felt really good, we played a very solid game, it was almost perfect except some turnover here and there," said Mike Joseph, one of the many young players on the Kings' team.
"We feel quite comfortable together," the 22-year-old guard added.
"I think the whole team played very disciplined today," a pleased Vedran Bosnic, the Kings' head coach, admitted.
"We did a good job and knew almost for the entire 40 minutes what we should do at any moment."
"We have the responsibility to continue playing at this level, especially since we have a tough schedule ahead with both league games and additional games in the EuroChallenge," Bosnic warned.
The Kings have gone from strength to strength since the start of their national championship, defeating Sundsvall Dragons 85-77 in the season opener and then clinching a 92-78 road win at Solna Vikings mid-week.
"We are playing really fast now and we have more threats," explained Joseph, who despite his young age is somewhat a veteran on the team.
"Everyone can shoot and then it looks different in every game.
"Sometimes it might be me scoring a lot of points , sometimes it's Dino [Butorac], we have plenty of guys who can score."
Joseph, who suited up for the Swedish national team at U20 level, has been averaging 6.3 points and 3.1 assists per game so far in the Basketligan.
"With regards to myself, I had a similar role two years ago as I have now, with the same responsibilities," Joseph said.
"Last year it was a bit different, the responsibility disappeared a bit, but it feels like I'm back now."
Another player who seems to have made great strides since last season is Roberson, who is currently leading the team in scoring, with 20.3 points per game, and assists, with 6.7 passes per encounter.
The Kings picked up only two wins in their six games in the EuroChallenge Regular Season last year and failed to qualify to the Last 16.
The Swedish champions are hoping to do better this season in Group C, against the likes of Tartu University Rock, BK Ventspils and BC Zepter Vienna.
The first two were in action over the weekend in the Baltic league, with mixed results.
Ventspils registered another comfortable victory, 81-61 over Lietkabelis at home, behind a game-high 19 points from Sandis Valters, who also added four rebounds and four assists and an all-round display by Janis Timma, who contributed 18 points, six boards and six assists.
Tartu meanwhile had a very poor second quarter, in which they were outscored 29-11 by their guests, group leaders Pieno Zvaigzdes, and their comeback attempt in the second half fell short.
They ended up losing 68-66 at home as Augustas Peciukevicius finished with 13 points and Timo Eichfuss had 12 points and seven rebounds for Tartu in defeat.
The Latvian side are top of Group B with two wins in as many games, while the Estonians stand at 1-1 in Group C.
|Janis Timma has another inspired performance for Ventspils|
Vienna meanwhile, who are at the top of the Austrian Admiral Bundesliga with a 2-0 record, play away at Bulls Kapfenberg on Monday night.
NEWCOMERS MARCH ON IN ROMANIA, NETHERLANDS
Two more sides that, just like Södertälje, have jumped into the driver's seat early on in their respective national leagues are EuroChallenge newcomers CS Municipal Oradea and SPM Shoeters Den Bosch.
Oradea enjoyed their third victory in a row in the Romanian LNB league on Sunday night, as they smashed BC Timba Timisoara 92-63 at home.
The hosts clinched an 18-point lead already in the second quarter and never allowed Timisoara to turn the game into a real contest.
Vujadin Subotic paved the way for Oradea with a team-high 17 points on 4-for-5 three-point shooting and added six rebounds while Titus Nicoara and Radovan Markovic chipped in with 15 points apiece, the former also grabbing seven rebounds.
Both of the other Romanian clubs that will participate in the EuroChallenge however slumped to defeats at the weekend, and now stand at 1-2 on the LNB table.
In the Dutch League meanwhile, Shoeters Den Bosch emerged victorious from a clash between EuroChallenge sides, despite the fact they had to make do without injured Dutch international Kees Akerboom.
The Eredivisie leaders travelled to Groningen to take on GasTerra Flames and led from start to finish, claiming a 68-52 victory.
Tai Wesley powered Den Bosch to victory with a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds while guard Tony Johnson added 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting from the floor and four steals, but also had four turnovers.
"We had control of the game over three quarters but it is just the beginning of the season yet, as for Tony Johnson he still needs to gain experience," Den Bosch head coach Sam Jones said afterwards.
Jason Dourisseau had 18 points, three rebounds and four steals for Groningen in a losing effort.
The third Dutch team that will compete in the EuroChallenge this year, ZZ Leiden, lost 77-69 away to Den Helder, despite a 20-point, 8-rebound effort by Joshua Duinker.