19 September, 2017
02 May, 2018
20 Brandyn Curry | Photo: Erwin Otten
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Experts: Who were the breakouts and letdowns of the season?

MUNICH (FIBA Europe Cup) - Umana Reyer Venezia closed the curtain on an exciting FIBA Europe Cup season by lifting the trophy in front of their fans at the Palasport Giuseppe Taliercio.

On that note, our panel of experts, featuring Igor Curkovic, Jared Grellet and Simonas Baranauskas, convened for some round-table discussions to review the electrifying race to the throne the main actors.

There were plenty of memorable storylines in the FIBA Europe Cup this season all the way across Europe. What will be the one thing you will remember the 2017-18 season for?

IC: Have to keep it in the neighborhood, and say that Mornar* had an impressive sail throughout European basketball waters. For a long time, I was sure that the Montenegrin outfit will go all the way, especially after they knocked out Oostende - the Belgian juggernauts that were on the verge of making it to the Play-Offs in Basketball Champions League - in the Round of 16. But even a Quarter-Finals appearance was good enough to show you why the Adriatic region was excited about going to Bar this season, instead of going to a bar... (Had to do it.) Oh, and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell's smart decision to stay with Bakken for one more term. His explosiveness and ability to score a bunch of points was obvious even last season, now he seems to have taken it to a next level. 
*Mornar = Sailor in Montenegrin
JG: Don't get me wrong here - I am genuinely worried about climate change, particularly the effect it has on the seasonal cycle of animals. Some animals are migrating earlier...others are going into hibernation later. However, those were not thoughts concerning Aarhus, as the Bears skipped hibernation altogether and - in the name of their Viking forefathers - spent the winter exploring new territory for Danes. 
SB: Bakken Bears and Donar Groningen and their remarkable Play-Off runs may be the most obvious answers to this question, but ESSM Le Portel and their dominant European debut deserves a special shout-out as well. The new kids on the block from France were the team to beat for much of the Regular Season and the Second Round. They went on an 11-game winning streak spanning three-and-a-half months and dominated the Power Rankings week in, week out. It all unraveled for coach Eric Girard's side in the Play-Offs after losing Jakim Donaldson, but the Frenchmen still had a continental experience they can be proud of.

The Derek Needham-led Sailors of Bar surprised some people in FIBA Europe Cup

Umana Reyer Venezia were crowned the new FIBA Europe Cup champions after defeating Sidigas Scandone Avellino in the all-Italian title duel. If there was a Final MVP award, which player would deserve it most?

IC: You know, Republic of Venice and Republic of Ragusa found a way to work together in the 13th and 14th century. Venetian comes reigned in the city of Dubrovnik, but all the other leading men in Ragusa were from Dubrovnik. Skip forward to the 2010s, and the roles have changed - Venezia got their comes in Hrvoje Peric, the man from Dubrovnik, who has over these past five years grown into Reyer's leader, with some additional domestic firepower in Italy. He gets my vote. Amazing performance in the second leg, don't think Venezia would've held on to the lead without him at his best.  
JG: Hrvoje Peric. When Venice needed to shift from fourth to fifth gear following a stuttering start to the second half on the return leg, it was Peric with his foot on the clutch. Hang on though, does the MVP have to come from the winning team? Kyrylo Fesenko was immense. He finished both games with a positive +/- and if Avellino had been able to squeeze another 5-10 minutes a game out of the big man, I am sure we would have seen a different side crowned champions. How far along are we in cloning?
SB: How about splitting it into 12 pieces? The Walter De Raffaele-coached team are uniquely balanced and possess a depth of talent throughout their roster, making the task of singling out someone in particular an unfair exercise. If I did have to choose a single player, it would have to be Austin Daye, who averaged who averaged 14.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game and led the team in efficiency. He was a real difference-maker in the first meeting in Avellino and put plenty of points on the board when the teams met in Venice again.

Hrvoje Peric came up big for Umana Reyer Venezia in the second leg of the Final

One could say that Reyer lifting the trophy was a logical conclusion to the Play-Offs and something a lot of people predicted. Looking at the whole season, which team may have caught you off guard a little bit and surprised you in a positive way?

IC: Donar Groningen. Actually, we should've known they'll go deep into the post-season even then, way back on the very first day of the Regular Season, when they took ESSM Le Portel by surprise. Especially considering the fact that ESSM Le Portel won all the other group games in both the First and the Second Round. Donar play at the MartiniPlaza, and seems that their fans were drunk in love, packing it up to the rafters week in, week out. Even some of the opposing players told me that they were surprised at how good this club has gotten, so kudos to everybody in their organization. 
JG: The Bears are too obvious here. Sure, they surprised us, but for the older readers, that can still recall the EuroChallenge, this is a team that likes making big runs as outsiders. So, seeing them do it again did not surprise me. Here is one for you: the strength of Hungarian teams. This year saw four Hungarian teams in the competition. Three of the four ended with positive win/loss ratios, whilst Szolnoki Olaj, who were knocked out in the Second Round, managed an 8-8 record. I sincerely believe that the Hungarian League is right now one of the fastest growing in Europe, in terms of depth of competitive teams. I expect even bigger things for Hungarian clubs on the European stage in the future.
SB: Fear the Bears! Their march to the Semi-Finals, already dubbed the Danish fairytale, was a bolt out of the blue for me. Throughout the campaign, it was hard to put the finger on how real the Bakken Bears threat was. They had some shaky performances here and there in the Regular Season and the Second Round, but eventually proved they were a special bunch. Playing at a breakneck pace and blowing away teams with their athleticism, DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell and company proved that this type of game is more than capable of translating into victories. It certainly wasn't all about Akoon-Purcell on this team, with Jaye Crockett, Tony Bishop, Michel Diouf, Doug Wiggins and Darko Jukic forming what proved to be one hell of a team. 

Few people expected Bakken Bears to reach the Semi-Finals of the competition

On the other hand, which team fell short of your expectations and had a disappointing campaign in your eyes?

IC: Is it too harsh of me to say ESSM Le Portel? I mean, they got to the Quarter-Finals, but the way they played in the Regular Season, plus that comeback win over Dinamo Sassari in the Round of 16, maybe they are left just a little bit disappointed not to be standing on the top step of the podium at the finish line. Then again, this was only their first European campaign, maybe they were just warming up for years to come. 
JG: Ventspils. This is a team that always tends to travel well through the early stages in European competition, only to trip up in the pressure stages. First, they lost their last four Basketball Champions League Regular Season games, two which were at home. Then, to get blown out by 20 points on their home court by Bakken Bears? For a team with a core of players in and around the Latvian national team, this for me was a major let down.
SB: On paper, Istanbul BBSK had the talent to compete for the FIBA Europe Cup title. Ivan Buva, Stefan Bircevic, Michael Thompson, Ryan Toolson, Eric Buckner. They are all players that many other teams in the competition would be dying to have on their squad. Yet, it just did not work out for the Turkish club who, in my opinion, can easily be labeled the biggest underachievers of the season after being eliminated in the Second Round by ESSM Le Portel and Nizhny Novgorod. I was expecting big things of this team before the start of the FIBA Europe Cup campaign after they got past s.Oliver Wuerzburg and Khimik in the Qualification Rounds, but it simply did not materialize for the club from Istanbul.

A dominant season did not translate into Play-Off success for ESSM Le Portel

It's hardly a secret that stellar play in the FIBA Europe Cup has opened doors to even bigger clubs for the competition's standouts. In your opinion, which player has put himself in a position to trampoline his career this summer?

IC: DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell is the obvious choice, but keep an eye out on Stevan Jelovac. About to celebrate his 29 birthday this summer, and after all the record-shattering he's done with Nizhny Novgorod, there might be a huge contract upgrade waiting for him, an early birthday gift of a sort. Southpaw players are always tricky, but Jelovac is much more than a one-trick pony. Just ask the champs, Umana Reyer Venezia. He dropped 38 on them in the Quarter-Finals, that surely didn't go by unnoticed around Europe.
JG: The door has already been open for Fesenko, but will it now open again? For my mind, he was the most dominant player in the Play-Offs this year. Granted also, Avellino is already a relatively big club. But who wouldn't love to see the Jazz fan favorite play out his days in Utah? The proposition of Rudy Gobert going to the bench, to be replaced by Fesenko gets me excited. In all seriousness though, Fesenko has shown he has a few years left yet in his 31-year-old legs and a lucrative contract could still be in the wings awaiting him.
SB: There are certainly a few, but it will be particularly interesting to see where Donar Groningen playmaker Brandyn Curry lands this coming off-season, or if the Dutch title holders might be able to retain their starting point guard. Averaging 15.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.4 steals in the FIBA Europe Cup will undoubtedly draw plenty of attention from across Europe. Could he become the next Jordan Theodore, Johannes Voigtmann or Marcus Denmon who got their big break after explosive seasons in the FIBA Europe Cup? I'm pretty sure that Curry's agent will be getting a lot of calls this off-season.

Stevan Jelovac was in record-breaking form this season for Nizhny Novgorod

Of course, the competition also uncovers talent of the future – which up-and-coming players do you think we will be hearing big things about going forward?

IC: Nandor Kuti. The Romanian guard is about to turn 22 in January, there is something about him that keeps you locked in when watching the Romanian national team or U-BT Cluj-Napoca. He only had a single double digit game in FIBA Europe Cup this season (16 against Istanbul BBSK), but he is just waiting to explode with all the athletic potential locked in him. 
JG: This is a little bit cheeky, underhanded if you may - but I am going with Rihards Lomazs (insert the shock horror emoji). So, he only played two games in FIBA Europe Cup with Ventspils, but prior to that he saw his minutes drastically rise at the back end of the club's Basketball Champions League campaign. This included an 8-of-10 three-point shooting clinic against Gaziantep. Expect Lomazs to be a fix in a Latvia national team jersey going forward.
SB: Tadas Sedekerskis played just four games in the competition after joining Nevezis Kedainiai for the Second Round but it was enough for the 20-year-old Lithuanian forward to remind everyone about his talent. After not getting much playing time in Spain, the player moved back to Lithuania in search of opportunities and that's what he got in Kedainiai, logging nearly 30 minutes per game in the FIBA Europe Cup. Having put up a couple of big double-doubles, Sedekerskis finished his short European campaign with averages of 9.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 60.9% shooting from the field. His physical attributes and a well-rounded skillset make him quite likely to hear his name called in the NBA Draft, either this summer or next.