It is a fresh start for Unicaja Malaga, which enters its first 7DAYS EuroCup season as a strong candidate to lift the trophy. Unicaja has completely reloaded its roster, bringing new players at all positions with experienced playmaker Oliver Lafayette, scoring aces Adam Waczynski and Kyle Fogg, versatile forward Jeff Brooks and big man Dejan Musli. Unicaja has all it takes to be competitive in the EuroCup: size, talent, experience and a EuroCup-winning head coach, Joan Plaza, who enters his fourth season with the Spanish powerhouse.
Lafayette and Coach Plaza meet again after a successful 2012-13 season with Zalgiris Kaunas. A EuroCup winner with Valencia Basket in 2014, Lafayette brings court sense, defense and determination. He will share the point guard duties with homegrown playmaker Alberto Diaz, who keeps improving every season, and combo guard Nemanja Nedovic. Diaz is a hard-nosed defender and has a high basketball IQ who needs only to improve his shooting percentages to get to the next level. Nedovic, who comes off a good Olympic tournament with Serbia,, wants to keep his momentum going and use his athleticism. Unicaja added plenty of firepower with Fogg and Waczynski. Fogg was the German League's top scorer last season and Waczynski was third in Spain. Jamar Smith is also an accomplished shooter, giving Unicaja plenty of choices on offense.
With so many great scorers on the team, Unicaja opted to fortify its frontcourt with very good rebounders Brooks, a modern power forward with great ballhandling, mobility and intensity, ranked third in rebounds in the EuroCup last season. Musli, a two-time International Junior Tournament MVP growing up, was the Spanish League's top rebounder last season. They can rely for help from all-purpose forwards Carlos Suarez and Dani Diez, who give Coach Plaza a lot of versatility to work with. Diez can do a little of bit of everything while Suarez is an experienced rebounder and three-point shooter.
PLAYER TO WATCH
He has been under the radar for some years but Brooks showed what he is capable of last season. Brooks took Avtodor Saratov to the EuroCup Last 32, averaging 13.1 points and 8.2 rebounds in 13 games, scoring in double digits in 12 of them. Brooks was deadly from the free throw line (89.6%) and that helped him led the EuroCup in performance index rating (21.3) among players who went past the regular season. Brooks is a versatile forward able to do a little bit of everything on the court. He is faster than most of the players his size, can dribble like a guard and doesn't make many mistakes, averaging just 1.3 turnovers playing over 30 minutes per game last season. That versatility could prove key on a team full of talent with a coach who always gets the most out of his roster.
Adjusting to a new competition is never easy but most players in Unicaja have been in the EuroCup before. Moreover, Plaza can be the first coach to reach the EuroCup final with three different teams, after winning it with Real Madrid in 2007 and reaching the title game with Cajasol Seville in 2011. As always, Unicaja will rely on its fans to help it stay strong at Martin Carpena Arena. Getting a quick road win would help, even when Unicaja will play in tough environments like Podgorica and Murcia early in the season. Making it past the regular season - and setting new goals when that happens - should be the opening gambit for a strong, experienced, balanced team like Unicaja.