Tenerife, Vipers delve into uncharted territory
TENERIFE (Spain) - A brief glance at FIBA Intercontinental Cup's list of historical champions will tell you that the hosts of the 2020 edition of the competition, Iberostar Tenerife, are the only among the four participants to have -quite literally- been here and done this before.
In the autumn of 2017, the newly-crowned back then Basketball Champions League champions defeated Venezuela's Guaros de Lara at home in Tenerife to lift their maiden FIBA Intercontinental Cup.
🎙️ @Huertas09, sobre @RGVVipers : "Son muy físicos y con talento, hay que prepararnos bien".— Iberostar Tenerife (@CB1939Canarias) February 6, 2020
💻 Streaming de FIBA con la conferencia de prensa ➡️ https://t.co/YHhBtOcfGO#IntercontinentalCup #TenerifeIC2020 pic.twitter.com/AgGQA5Q4Ne
Going into the second Semi-Final of the 2020 edition though, on Friday, the Spanish club feel they have to deal with the unfamiliar and prove themselves really fast learners, just like their rivals, reigning NBA G League champions Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
For Tenerife, it starts with head coach Txus Vidorreta, who led the Spanish team to the BCL title in 2017 but parted ways with the club before the FIBA Intercontinental Cup final, and he returned at the helm later that season.
"The competition has a different format and I was not here for the title in 2017, I had the chance to win the BCL title and that is why the club had the chance to play host to the competition that year," Vidorreta said.
"For us, it's an honor to receive these clubs here and to host this competition. We have a great desire to win our second FIBA Intercontinental Cup, but we know it's going to be very difficult."
Another reason why Tenerife will have a strange feeling in Friday's Semi-Final, despite playing at home, is that they have never faced a team with a style of play similar to that of the perimeter-oriented Vipers.
"We don't know the Vipers as well as we know the other two teams [Virtus Bologna and San Lorenzo] but we've watched enough film on them to know that they are very athletic, very physical and they play up-tempo basketball," said Tenerife star Marcelinho Huertas.
Hey Coach Mahmoud & Kerwin Roach II. 👋 Go Vipers!🐍 https://t.co/IIHWwBwbx6— RGV Vipers (@RGVVipers) February 5, 2020
"But we are hosting the event and our expectations can only be high, we can only hope to reach the Sunday final and win it.
"I think the expectations are high for every team that is here and everyone starts with an equal chance to win the trophy, because it's not a play-off series, it's two single knock-out games.
"We take it very seriously and we respect all teams because all teams here want to achieve something here and we all deserve to be here."
The Vipers have also hit the video sessions hard as they try to familiarize themselves with their Spanish hosts. Most of the players on the Texas team have never competed against a non-US team before and they also have to acclimatize themselves to FIBA regulations.
😍 📸 Sesión de photoshooting de la #IntercontinentalCup— Iberostar Tenerife (@CB1939Canarias) February 6, 2020
♻️ 🌳 Los nuestros jugarán el torneo con una equipación ecológica, fabricada con tejidos 100% ecológicos #1equipaje1árbol ➡️ https://t.co/1iEvXMAgYY
💛🖤 #VamosCanarias #ElLatidodeNuestraHistoria pic.twitter.com/CnsWiacliq
"We've been watching film on Tenerife and we know they are as talented as they can be," said Vipers head coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah.
"It will be a small adjustment for our guys, because international rules are different than the rules we're used to in the G League or in the NBA, so both myself and the players will need to adapt.
"But it will be fun. It will be a great atmosphere for sure and I am looking forward to it. We're here to compete."
If coach Abdelfattah needs one of his players to spread the message that he expects his Vipers to go out and..bite on Friday and that lack of familiarity with the opponent and the rules isn't an excuse, he needs to look no further than his star point guard Isaiah Taylor.
"The different rules is just something we will have to get used to, the shorter three-point line, or knocking the ball of the rim, which to us is goal-tending," Taylor said.
"We just want to compete, and as everybody else here, we want to win the cup.
"Being in the NBA in the past three years [Taylor played for the Houston Rockets and for the Atlanta Hawks], I have a lot of friends or former team-mates that have played in Europe and they have told me about how hard teams in Europe play, how physical they are.
"I will look to be one of the leaders on the team and prepare my team-mates for this tough fight."