26 September, 2016
30 April, 2017
12 Zlatin Georgiev (BUL), 6 Aliaksei Trastsinetski (BLR)
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FIBA Europe Cup: Group J preview

MUNICH (FIBA Europe Cup) - Last in our preview series for the new FIBA Europe Cup season is Group J which includes teams from Belarus, Cyprus, Czech Republic and Lithuania.

Two of the teams, Tsmoki Minsk (BLR) and BC Siauliai (LTU), participated in the competition last year, while Apoel Nicosia (CYP) and BK Pardubice (CZE) will play under the newcomer status.

Having switched to the FIBA Europe Cup from the Basketball Champions League (BCL) Qualification Round, the Belarusian side stands out as the probable favourites of the group, but theory and practice don't always go hand in hand.

Apoel Nicosia want the spotlight back in Cyprus
Apoel Nicosia is one of the most successful Cypriot clubs, but has been overshadowed by the recent success of Petrolina AEK Larnaca, the other FIBA Europe Cup team from Cyprus.

For the second year in a row, Apoel had to concede defeat in the Cypriot League Finals to their rivals from Larnaca. The 11-time domestic champions defeated Keravnos 3-1 in the Semi-Finals, before ending up on the wrong side of a 3-0 sweep by AEK in the best-of-five gold-medal series.

There was a smaller positive takeaway from earlier in the season though, as Apoel claimed the Cypriot Cup.

On the current 10-man roster provided to FIBA Europe Cup before the start of the season, only three players from the previous season are in the squad – Girgoris Pantouris, Vassilis Kounas and Michalis Mythillos.

Additions of Theron Bussey, Robert Brown, Akeem Wright, Brandon Mobley and Murphy Burnatowski have strengthened the roster, but with the domestic season still not under way in Cyprus, their ability to learn on the fly will be put to test.

Having missed out on BCL, Tsmoki Minsk are back in FIBA Europe Cup
Founded in only in 2006, Tsmoki Minsk have become a Belarusian basketball steamroller in this short time, claiming the last eight Belarusian Premier League titles and the last seven Belarusian Cups.

Traditionally, the Dragons join the domestic championship only from the Play-Offs and have chosen to prioritize the VTB League and European competitions instead.

Having surrounded the most talented Belarusian players with solid foreigners, Tsmoki, undoubtedly had expectations to play in the BCL Regular Season, but were eliminated by Ironi Nahariya in the second BCL Qualification Round.

Justin Gray led the team in scoring during BCL qualifiers with 15 points per game, but his conversion rate hurt the team at times. Dru Joyce and Laimonas Kisielius also scored in double figures, while Djordje Gagic and Nemanja Milosevic provided the bulk under the rims.

Now, the Minsk clubs will have to shift their focus back to the FIBA Europe Cup, where they reached the Round of 32 stage last season. With a roster that Tsmoki has assembled, it would be a surprise if the Belarusian side didn’t reach the knock-out stages.

Siauliai field young roster, lower expectations
Siauliai were an interesting team to follow in last year's FIBA Europe Cup despite not making it out of the Regular Season due to a tie-breaker. However, the roster has since pretty much been disbanded due to the financial situation at the club.

The two players who returned for the club's new campaign, Eivydas Malosciakas and Arunas Sajavicius, combined for a total of 14 minutes last season in the FIBA Europe Cup.

Siauliai tried to fill the holes on the roster with less experienced Americans from the NCAA, but seven losses to start the Lithuanian LKL season indicate that some issues still need to be addressed.

Ghanaian forward Assenso Ampim is one of the few older players on the squad and also one of the few bright spots so far, averaging 12 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in the LKL.

The rest of the core is talented, but extremely young and coach Vaidas Pauliukenas can only hope things start to click for his side sooner rather than later.

Pardubice return to European competitions
Pardubice climbed to new heights for the club in the Czech Repbulic by claiming bronze medals in the Czech NBL last season and winning the Czech Republic Basketball Cup defeating Decin in the Final.

The team's American coach Level Sanders, once a player at Pardubice himself, has instilled in his team the energy and toughness that few teams could match in the domestic championship and that will be Sanders’ calling card come FIBA Europe Cup time.

Domestic action is already in full swing in Czech Republic with teams having played seven rounds in the Czech NBL and BK JIP Pardubice is currently second in the standings, only behind the defending champions CEZ Nymburk.

Plakát týmu Beksy, verze 2016/2017. :-)

A photo posted by BK JIP Pardubice (@beksapardubice) on

Dominez Burnett has enjoyed an especially strong start of the season, working wonders on both ends of the court, averaging 18.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.4 steals per game in the domestic championship.