After getting stopped in the quarterfinals last season for the first time in three years, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar kept six national players but brought in a fresh crew of foreigners, including a head coach, Luca Banchi, who boasts nearly 100 games of Euroleague Basketball experience. The newcomers include an old friend, Mantas Kalnietis, with whom Lokomotiv won the EuroCup in 2013. Kalnieties has a double-digit scoring average in four EuroCup seasons to date. Another new arrival, Will Cummings, won the competition when he last played in it, two seasons back with Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul. A trio of big men – Johnny O'Bryant, Alan Williams and Sam Dekker – promise the kind of size and firepower that can make the difference as Lokomotiv tries to get back in the elite.
Lokomotiv lists just four guards on its roster, but they cover a lot of skills. Cummings was a steady hand and finals hero when winning the title with Darussafaka. Kalnietis, just turned 33, has 13 years' worth of experience in the European elite. A big guard who has spent a career reading defenses, Kalnietis can figure out what a team needs on the fly, which is gold dust at this level. The same can be said for veteran shooting ace Vitaly Fridzon, the kind of player who always punishes opponents the moment they take their eye of him. But the big gun of this backcourt is Dimitry Kulagin, who led Lokomotiv in scoring last season and brings a combination of athleticism and confidence that makes him among the biggest backcourt threats in the EuroCup.
The new frontcourt of O'Bryant, Dekker and Williams are not your average imports. They combine for more than 350 NBA games between them over the last five years and bring complementary skills to the table. Dekker can swing between the forward spots, offering equal measures of speed and intensity. O'Bryant can score inside or outside, but also takes care of business on the boards. Williams, however, is a rebounding force whose offense takes place around the basket. They will be backed by experienced Vladimir Ivlev, a part-time starter last season; Stanislav Ilnitskiy, a former EuroCup champion; and Dragan Apic, who showed promise in limited chances last season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
After most of four seasons and almost 150 games in the NBA, O'Bryant made his European debut last season by putting up 10.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game for Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. His second European season promises even more for a big man so versatile that he recorded the EuroLeague top single-game performance index rating, 44, in three years last season. O'Bryant had as many as 32 points, 5 three-pointers, 14 rebounds and 4 steals in different games last season, all while playing just 23 minutes on average. That kind of talent is rare, plus it helps with lineup flexibility as O'Bryant can do many different things on a given night, without necessarily needing the ball every time down the floor, which will make Lokomotiv as a team more versatile, too.
A tough opening group with one national champion, Umana Reyer Venice of Italy, and three tough road gyms – those of Partizan NIS Belgrade, Rytas Vilnius and Limoges CSP – will force a quick adaptation on the Lokomotiv newcomers. With more than enough experience and talent to go around, the biggest goal will be playing solid defense together. If Coach Banchi uses the regular season to strengthen that aspect of Lokomotiv's game, however, the complementary pieces throughout the lineup will give him a lot of flexibility in how to attack opponents. When it all comes together, Lokomotiv will no doubt be a major contender as it is in almost every EuroCup season.