Crvena Zvezda has acquired three significant signings this summer, but only one them will wear Zvezda’s red-and-white uniform for the first time. That is big man Ognjen Kuzmic, who becomes team’s new reference in the paint. Kuzmic will try to be a source of production inside that Zvezda has relied upon heavily in the past couple seasons, but he will have a partner in seven-year EuroLeague veteran Milko Bjelica. The lone new signing on the perimeter is guard Charles Jenkins, a reliable shooting guard and a fan favorite in the Serbian capital. Jenkins is someone who is familiar with the system, and he fit in it nicely in two seasons during his first stint with the club. In addition, promising youngsters Ognjen Dobric, Dragan Apic and Nikola Radanov have joined the team and are expected to contribute.
Zvezda’s offense will be in the hands of playmaker Stefan Jovic, who last season set a EuroLeague single-game record when he dished 19 assists in one night, and this summer he helped Serbia win an Olympic silver medal in Rio. His backup at the point guard position is expected to be Nikola Rebic, who is eager to build on the experience gained last season, while teenager Aleksa Radanov will need to wait at least until November to make his EuroLeague debut as he recovers from a broken hand suffered during the preseason. Most of the points from the perimeter will likely come from up-and-coming scorer Marko Guduric, and the more-experienced Jenkins, while Branko Lazic is sure to get his big share of minutes as he remains the team’s top perimeter defender.
Kuzmic will be the go-to guy in the paint, where he can use his size, athleticism and overall skill-set. Kuzmic got a taste of the EuroLeague last season in somewhat limited minutes with Panathinaikos, but this year he will carry the load for Zvezda together with veteran big man Bjelica, who returned to the club after 10 years. Power forward and team captain Luka Mitrovic should be back to full strength after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury, while Borisa Simanic – the reigning ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Finals MVP - will get a chance to display his talents in his first full season. Ideally, Simanic can spread the defense with his long-range shooting, something Zvezda does have at the wings with big sharpshooter Marko Simonovic – another Olympic silver medalist – and athletic forwards Nemanja Dangubic and rookie Ognjen Dobric, whose contributions on both ends of the floor go a long way for Coach Dejan Radonjic.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Point guard Stefan Jovic set or tied career-highs in every single statistical category last season. He not only broke the EuroLeague single-game record with 19 assists in a road win at FC Bayern Munich, but at the end of the season was ranked among the league’s top six in both assists and assist-turnover ratio categories. However, Jovic scored in double figures only seven times last season, and that is expected to change dramatically this campaign as he will carry and even bigger load and likely spend a lot more time on the floor. With his confidence at an all-time high after his Olympic performance, this 26-year old playmaker will be one of the keys to Zvezda’s success in the long season ahead.
Zvezda enters this season with a very young squad, but returns six players from a team that went on a run and reached the playoffs last season. With their army of fans giving them a lift at each home game – they travel in smaller numbers to most of the road fixtures too – Zvezda possesses an advantage of having one of the toughest home courts on the continent. However, this team will be put to the test from the start and never more than in the month of December when in five straight games it faces all of the EuroLeague champions or runners-up of the last five seasons. It is a stretch that starts against Fenerbahce Istanbul, followed by clashes against Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, Olympiacos Piraeus, Real Madrid and eventually against reigning champion CSKA Moscow to end the calendar year and close the first part of the EuroLeague season.