Surne Bilbao was left without the Cup last weekend after the defeat at the Palau against Barça and Valencia’s victory at home. In fact, he virtually exhausted his options a week ago in Girona. Now the chapter is over and he is excited about the Champions League. The Top16 starts tomorrow in Miribilla against Darussafaka, in a Group L with a vast majority of ACB representatives, as it is completed by Tenerife and Murcia. The insular team is the clear favorite, due to its pedigree within the competition, with two gimped and one runner-up, and there will be a close fight for the other place. The leader has a field advantage in the subsequent crossing, to the best of three games. Ponsarnau’s pupils avoided the play-in after leading the batch of the first phase, a sudden death to which Murcia and Darussafaka himself did submit, third behind Hapoel Jerusalem and the German Riesen. The Ottomans fanned Portuguese Benfica in just two games.
The Turkish team is led by Selçuk Ernak and bases its game on a short rotation, although with important local players, such as point guard Ozdemiroglu (13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 14, 9 PIR per game) and center Osmani (10.3, 7.3, 1.3 blocks and 14.5). Both are fundamental along with the British interior Olaseni (14,6, 7 and 18). Another Briton, the power forward Yeboah and three Americans, the outsiders Starks and McCullough (8.6) and the former Tenerife power forward Aaron White complete the group of most important players for their coach.
The people from Bilbao have taken a firm step in the BCL this year, with 4-2, although they were failing at home. Ponsarnau considers this “illusion” to be “key” to face this Top 16. They swept the first round of the regular season (3-0). They then suffered a setback at home against Bosnian Igokea, but delivered a tremendous blow of authority in Istanbul against their main rival, Bahçesehir (60-92), before getting carried away on the final day against bottom and eliminated ERA Nymburk who took the victory of the Bilbao Arena.
Istanbul and Malaga want F4. Players like Hakanson, Smith and Kayser, the latter two eager to repeat in an F4 as in 2022 in Miribilla, dream of going very far, and continue adding euros to the club’s box. And Rabaseda knows the way to the title, as he achieved it with Burgos in 2021. After the home premiere, there will be two consecutive outings to Tenerife and Murcia in the second and third of the six days that make up this Top 16.
Of course, the ‘men in black’ assume that the group is complicated. “Although the great objective of the ACB has not been achieved, we like to play in Europe and we want the club to continue there”, remarks Ponsarnau. Playing against two Spanish teams leaves everyone indifferent, although you always want to discover new corners and other types of basketball, “we are facing a different competitive context than the ACB,” says Ponsarnau. He considers that the first game “is very important to see the objectives that Bilbao Basket can have before two consecutive outings”, although he does not hide his desire to “go through the phase”.
“We are going to see what the team gives us, what our rivals allow us and how this competitive context of playing Tuesday and weekend is going for us”, pointed out the Catalan, who revealed that with the injury for several weeks of the recently recovered Nikola Radicevic “some players have spent more than necessary”. The Tàrrega coach considers that Darussafaka has “similar virtues” to those of Surne and with several players and his coach Ernak with experience in European tournaments. “It’s a team that grabs not many players, but finds a lot of solidity. They don’t like physical matches, like us, but when they find their game they do very well. Maximum respect and maximum demand in the work that we must do ”, he stressed.
By last, Ponsarnau believes that they arrive in a good state of mind for this event, despite the defeat conceded last Sunday at the Palau Blaugrana, which definitively separated them from the Copa del Rey, after the “very good response” they offered Barça in the second half. “In the first the frustration led us to leave the offensive plane and that’s where we had the main problem, but in the second we forgot about that frustration and played with determination”, he explained. “In the first round, what we regret the most is some last quarter in which the team did not find a game. Frustration punished us and we were an unrecognizable team. And in the second part of the Palau we gave a very good response based on finding success and determination”, considered Ponsarnau.
Bilbao Basket may have an important signing in the Champions League, since Goudelock, the franchise player seriously injured in the knee in preseason, is advancing by leaps and bounds and could return to Spain shortly to work with the group. The coaching staff does not want to speculate about it, but since FIBA does not impose restrictions on North Americans, at any moment they could join the squad and play with their compatriots Smith and Kyser, plus a European assimilated Withey for having a woman from Sweden. The return of the Mini-Mamba would be a great mood booster for everyone, at least that’s what their coach admits.