In the competition for the third consecutive season, Zenit St. Petersburg has a core that is made out of players who are homegrown or already spent several seasons with the team, and half of this summer’s signings are former players returning to the club. Sergey Karasev – son of head coach Vasily - and Pavel Sergeev return to the club after a few years away and should fit in easily with their new/old team. Likewise, veteran point guard Stefan Markovic, who just won an Olympic silver medal with Serbia and whose defense on opposing point guards and scorers will be a big bonus for this squad, should hit the ground running. Aaron White looks to be a valuable addition to team’s frontcourt, while Alexander Razumov – another player coming back - and Evgeny Voytyuk add energy and depth, along with the potential to develop into players ready to carry a larger load.
Zenit has an all-new group of players at the perimeter surrounding its top scorer, sharpshooter Ryan Toolson, who starred for Zenit and led the EuroCup in three-point shooting last season. Karasev is a great offensive playmaker while Markovic is a top perimeter defender. Point guard Artem Vikhorov, who is one of the club’s homegrown talents, and veteran Sergeev bring plenty of depth at the guard positions for the team, which will rely heavily on the performances of its backcourt on both ends of the floor. Voytyuk provides the team with size and range at the wings.
The recovery of Kyle Landry from injury is equally important for Zenit’s frontcourt, as is the addition of White. Both are really good rebounders, as is reserve center Anton Pushkov, who ranked among the top ten per-minute in both blocked shots and rebounds last season. But strong rebounding can only come with help from the forwards, and Evgeny Valiev, Janis Timma and Razumov protect the glass and collect boards really well. Zenit also has one of the tallest players in the competition in Andrei Desyatnikov, but he is also the youngest player on coach Karasev’s roster.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Janis Timma has two seasons in the competition under his belt, and in each of those he has already proved his versatility. Timma’s athleticism allows for his presence on the boards to be felt, but his feel for the game has turned him into an invaluable point-forward. The career-highs he set so far in his young career speak for itself - like 17 rebounds with the season on the line in the Eighthfinals Game 1 last season, or 8 assists two seasons ago in a game against eventual champion Khimki Moscow Region. This team’s stars might be in the backcourt, but Zenit’s star-in-the making looks to be Janis Timma.
Zenit has a revamped backcourt, and the team will go as far as that group of players takes them. All eyes will be on Karasev, Markovic and Toolson, who should score, create and open things up for everybody else. Zenit has enough size inside to battle with any opponent and control the glass, which they did so successfully the entire EuroCup campaign last season. With a young team being another year older, and with the experience of reaching the elimination rounds the past two seasons, Zenit is poised to make a run deeper than in any of its previous five appearances.