David Pick | Nr. 49

Angriff der Roca-Rookies und die Rückkehrer aus Tartastan | David Pick über die beiden EurOleague-"Aufsteiger" AS Monaco und UNICS Kasan.

It's safe to say that everyone reading this knows basketball, and knows the Euroleague. So let's give the Roca club a big welcome shoutout to the Euroleague. Wait a minute. Roca who? Y'all probably think I'm drunk, but the Roca club is actually AS Monaco. Locally, in the French Riviera, they're branded as "Roca", which is a tribute to Prince Albert II's Palace that sits on a rock, overseeing the country, implying all things below belong to the Prince. Internationally, however, we know them as AS Monaco.

It's safe to say that everyone reading this knows basketball, and knows the Euroleague. So let's give the Roca club a big welcome shoutout to the Euroleague.

Wait a minute. Roca who? Y'all probably think I'm drunk, but the Roca club is actually AS Monaco. Locally, in the French Riviera, they're branded as "Roca", which is a tribute to Prince Albert II's Palace that sits on a rock, overseeing the country, implying all things below belong to the Prince. Internationally, however, we know them as AS Monaco.

We've grown to know Monaco as they've burst onto the FIBA Basketball Champions League stages qualifying for back-to-back BCL Final 4s in Tenerife and Athens. They lost in both tournaments, but progressively climbed from the semifinals, to the finals stage. They’re a true Cinderella club that started from the bottom - thanks Drake, now I have that song stuck in my head: “Started from the bottom, now we’re here.”

In 2018 Monaco bolted for the EuroCup. In Year I they reached the Top-16. Year II showed promise by reaching the Quarterfinals in a season cut short due COVID-19. Last season was the icing on the cake. Although they got off to a rocky 6-4 start, they then exploded with an impressive 11-2 run, rolling over clubs in the likes of Nanterre, Malaga and Badalona; Buducnost 2-1 in the QF series; Gran Canaria 2-0 in the SF series; and Kazan 2-0 in the prestigious EuroCup Finals series. Now it's their coming out party on the biggest stage Europe has to offer. Welcome Roca. Welcome Monaco. Welcome to the Euroleague!

Per roster listings, Monaco reshaped its entire personnel. That's not something we see often from year to year, where a club changes 98% of their (winning) roster that led them to such glory. The lone survivors of the EuroCup championship squad are American guard Rob Gray and Senegealse forward Ibrahima Faye. Khadeem Carrington, Dee Bost, Damien Inglis, Marcos Knight, J.J. O'brien, Mathias Lessort and others didn't return.

Led by head coach Zvezdan Mitrovic, Monaco has stepped up to Europe's elite basketball tournament with a number of notable signings including Euroleague vets such as Leo Westermann, Will Thomas and Brock Motum, alongside returning star Donatas Motiejūnas. The cherry on the top though, was Mike James. I've been asked a lot about how far Monaco can go in the Euroleague? Victories against Panathinaikos and Kazan were impressive, but in the long term, I don't think they're good enough, or deep enough, to contend for the playoffs. Mike James is a superstar in his own element. He is a walking human highlight. He can win games, a lot of them. But he isn’t able to lead a team to win the Euroleague. I'm willing to bet a lot of money that Monaco makes roster changes by Christmas.

Architects of the ambitious Roca club are 49-year-old Ukranian President Sergey Dyadechko and Russian 35-year-old General Manager Oleksiy Efimov.

Dyadechko, who turns 50 next month, is a Ukrainian oligarch and visionar. Born in Donetsk, he played basketball for the local University. In 2007, he became Chairman and Shareholder of BC Donetsk, and everything Dyadechko then touched turned to gold. That same season, composed entirely of Ukrainian players, Donetsk won the Ukrainian Third League, the equivalent of ProB in Germany, with an impressive 34-0 record. The following season, he won the Ukrainian Second League to advance in two seasons to the Ukranian Super League. Take a wild guess, what happened the following season? Yup, the team became champions of the Super League. Incredible.

Dyadechko's involvement in domestic hoops oozes down to the youth ages as well, and he sponsored dozens of streetball tournaments in Donetsk and the surrounding cities. In 2013, Donetsk's young squad won the Youth Euroleague tournament, the most prestigious Championship in Europe.

Dyadechko felt it was time for a change, a new challenge. His blood was boiling for something he can become passionate about, again. That's when he chose to take over AS Monaco - at the time a very low level club in the NM1 League in France; similar to the German ProB and third division club he built from the ground up in his homeland.

Monaco is a beautiful city. Home to 40,000 residents, roughly 6,000 only are natives. In Monaco life isn't usual as we know it. The biggest celebrities walk the streets unbothered. Tai-British Racing Driver Alex Albon has been spotted in local cafes with a backpack and t-shirt. Famous Tennis star Novak Djokovic trains on the local beach, and Michael Jordan has been rumoured to work out in the local basketball arena.

It didn't take Dyadechko too long to work his magic. In 2014 Monaco advanced to the ProB, and the following season to the ProA, becoming the first in the history of French basketball to achieve the feat of winning successively NM1 and ProB. Monaco weren't star struck in the ProA, finishing as the Regular Season Champions, and winning the domestic Leaders Cup (TWICE IN A ROW) - becoming the first club in the history of the tournament to win this title back-to-back. Now, he's coming to conquer the Euroleague, and he isn’t shy about it.

The boss behind the scenes for building the roster is the youngest GM in the Euroleague. Efimov began his career in sports similar to CSKA President Andrey Vatutin -- as an 18-year-old sports journalist for Russian media mogul “Sports Express”. By the age of 21, the BC Kiev lost financial assets and Efimov was offered the press manager position. Once the director left, it was Serbian coach Sasa Obradovic who recognized his talent and offered Efimov the vacant role. The two hoops fanatics would reunite some years later under Dyadechko's wing with BC Donetsk. "I didn't know the president", Efimov said on Dyadechko. "Sasa was the one that pushed me to get that job."

Fast Forward after Obradovic's tenure and Efimov found himself as head coach of Donetsk. He lost his first game in overtime against Astana, but went on to win over a handful of VTB League games. He lost 10 kilos and decided the pressure of coaching wasn't for him. Efimov and Dyadechko celebrated a decade-long partnership hearing the Euroleague anthem in their local gym in Monaco, which was recently upgraded from 3,000 to 4,000 spectators. "We were dreaming about the Euroleague, then it became a target, and now it's all complete. There was pressure, but once you hear that Euroleague anthem, you only focus on the pleasure of reaching your goal", Efimov concluded.

This isn't UNICS Kazan's first rodeo in the Euroleague, but it is their 10 year anniversary since making the Playoffs for the first and last time in 2011-12. The Russians have since collected two more campaigns in Europe's elite, but they were underachieved, bowing down in the regular season for the last time in 2016-17 (8-22).

UNICS has always been a club to promote talent with high-profile. From ex-Euroleague No.1 Scorer Keith Langford, to EuroCup MVP Andrew Goudelock, to All-EuroCup First Team Guards Errick McCollum and Quino Colom; and Regular Season MVP, Pierria Henry, to EuroCup Coach of the Year, Andrea Trinchieri.

Founded in 1991, UNICS became a well-regarded Russian club. Like most Russian teams, finances became an issue at some point. I remember when Langford told me he used to get treatment and massages at the local salons in Kazan, because the team didn't have the right personnel on staff.

UNICS's hard work paid off, or simply - UNICS started playing big bucks. In 2003 the club edged CSKA Moscow in overtime to lift the Russian Cup. In 2004, Kazan hosted and hoisted the FIBA Europe League Final 4 trophy. Things continued to click for them in the EuroCup as UNICS bested Cedevita Zagreb in the semis and Cajasol Sevilla in the championship game to take the crown in 2011. Marko Popovic, the MVP with 18 points and 11 assists, continues to break records a decade later for Krka Novo Mesto in the Adriatic League.

UNICS's comeback to the Euroleague with key players from last season's EuroCup Finals run John Brown and Isaiah Canaan, is celebrated with a full arsenal of former NBA players. After dominating the EuroCup for multiple seasons, the Russian established a strong reputation overseas, luring Mario Hezonja (2.03 meters, 26 years old), Jarrell Brantley (2.01 meters, 25 years old), and O.J. Mayo (1.96 meters, 33 years old) to the freezing weather of the Republic of Tatarstan. By the way, Brantley is a graduate of Charleston University. Any ideas who the other Kazan star from Charleston was? The "Mini Mamba", Andrew Goudelock. Few would remember, but Kobe Bryant, RIP, dubbed Goudelock the "Mini Mamba" while they joined forces for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Italian Olympian floor general Marco Spissu made the jump from the Champions League with Dinamo Sassari and debuted in the Euroleague. Between old school center Tonye Jekiri and athletic big man Artem Klimenko, UNICS will have size and power in the paint. But in my opinion one of the more prestigious additions was domestic star forward Andrey Vorontsevich. He holds the record for most performances in the CSKA Moscow jersey - EVER, with 696 appearances. "Voro'', 33 years old, was booted out of Moscow after 14 years, winning EuroLeague titles in 2008, 2016 and 2019, plus 13 Russian League titles and 10 VTB United League crowns.

Commanding his men is Velimir Perasovic, struggling to overcome a rocky start to the season, accumulating more Ls than Ws. Perasovic has proven to be a master in overseeing that department and getting his teams to challenge for big goals, which has been made the target score for Kazan this season.

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