|Anton Glazunov is loyal to the Ural Ekaterinburg cause, growing into one of their most important players|
By Vladimir Spivak
It's a very familiar set up for an elite Russian basketball club. Foreigners, especially Americans, lead teams in scoring and get to shoot on the game's biggest possessions.
It works for BC Ural Ekaterinburg as well, yet it's a little bit different.
The EuroChallenge debutants are the most unique Russian team playing on European courts this season, given to the fact that they only have two foreigners on the roster. Ural play in Russia's second division - Superleague - and cannot field more than two non-Russians due to the league's regulations.
Therefore the team has to rely on local players. Well, "has to" does not quite describe the policy of the club.
"We'd like to have some more Americans, maybe. They're obviously more skilled, they have a better school," points out Ural's head coach Oleg Okulov.
"But a few of these Russians have been on our squad for a while. They know what I want, they know our system well. I think good defence and a good system overall can work miracles, if the players believe in it."
Anton Glazunov is the biggest proof of Okulov's words. It is his fourth season in Ekaterinburg and he has now transformed into one of the top assistants in the EuroChallenge. Glazunov eliminates his lack of size with passion and the desire he always brings to the court.
The point guard is amongst the local fans' favourites as the whole team gains considerably more attention from the city. Of course, for this love they have to fight UMMC Ekaterinburg, the current female EuroLeague Women champions and one of the trademarks of the Ural region's largest city.
But the gym which Ural share with UMMC is always close to capacity for EuroChallenge encounters, drawing the second-biggest average crowds in the competition to date. All the players and coaches, including the visiting ones, praised the atmosphere.
|Ural Ekaterinburg is enjoying the second-biggest crowds in the EuroChallenge|
"It's crucial for us to have the gym packed. We don't have enough experience at this level, sometimes we commit schoolboy errors. We need fans to understand this and get behind us."
"Our opponents are from basketball countries, you can't surprise them with 4,000 fans, but it's about us, first of all. It's great when my players know their effort is appreciated," said Okulov.
It is not only the crowds that opposition coaches are praising but also the play of their hosts.
Following his side's loss in Ekaterinburg at the beginning of December, Krka head coach Aleksandar Dzikic was in complimentary frame of mind, stating, "this team is one of the most disciplined teams in Russia that I have ever faced.
"They have two Americans, but they play as Russians, it looks like they don't have division inside the team.
"The Russians are fighting, playing defence - they are playing together."
|Krka Head Coach Aleksandar Dzikic is full of praise for Ural Ekaterinburg, claiming they are one of the most disciplined Russian teams he has coached against|
Ural are the two-time Russian Superleague reigning champs and are currently top of the standings this year. If it was based purely on basketball-playing ability, the club would be playing in the VTB United League, Russia's highest basketball league. But the management failed to find a proper sponsor for this campaign.
However, they will hope to enter the top league next season.
"Unlike UMMC who belong to a private company we're fully dependent on local government. To get to the next level we need some bigger investment. Mostly in infrastructure, not in players," Okulov explained.
"I think we could be competitive at the top level even with the current roster. We would probably add a couple of foreigners, since the limit there is not as tough. But again, it's all about the system and the way you insert players in it."
The system has been working greatly so. They have a 3-1 record in Group E and are just a step away from making the Last 16 of EuroChallenge. An achievement, which would certainly increase the club's stock in the country.
"European club competitions are very important in Russia. I think we draw a lot of attention to ourselves by playing well in EuroChallenge," said Okulov.
BC Ural is not making headlines in Russia just yet. But it is not far of happening.