MoraBanc Andorra returned to action on Thursday after 21 days during which many members of the team tested positive for COVID-19 and underwent quarantine while playing no games and holding no practices. They still could not return for their scheduled Round 8 game on Tuesday, but two days later, MoraBanc's players took the floor with a couple of practices under their belts. Their head coach, Ibon Navarro, said that he couldn't predict what form his team would show after the long break.
"Actually, I don't know. We have been 21 days without competition, without practicing, without being together," he said. "I hope at least we're going to have energy. For sure, we have lost those kinds of things that come with [frequent competition]. I hope that the energy that we have after so many days without competing or playing basketball is enough."
Indeed, that energy was enough for an 82-69 decision against winless Telenet Giants Antwerp, but what was evident from the opening tipoff was the joy that MoraBanc's players felt being back on the court. Four of the five starters – Sergi Garcia, Jeremy Senglin, David Jelinek and Nacho Llovet – downed MoraBanc's first 4 three-point attempts in a span of 3 minutes as the hosts took an early lead. A few dunks followed soon after, and though MoraBanc's lead fluctuated for a while, falling as low as 31-30, a 25-6 run bridging halftime pretty much iced the game at 58-38. Antwerp did rally after that to within 9 points on a couple of occasions, but never got closer.
That spate of sharpshooting after opening tipoff continued until the hosts had made 11 of 19 triples early in the second half. Although their accuracy dropped after that to 13 of 29 total on the night, they still matched their third-best total ever in the EuroCup – and looked anything but out of practice. David Jelinek, who's in his fourth season with MoraBanc and led the shooting show with 4 three-pointers made, said returning from forced idleness was far from easy.
"We had a big issue [to deal with], but we did a great job," he said. "I think everybody is pretty tired because the practices have been very tough after many days that we didn't do that much. So it was a really tough game. Maybe it didn't look that way, but for us it was really hard. And we're really happy that we could step up and take the game. It was very important for us."
Indeed, the victory boosted MoraBanc's quest, after a 1-3 start, to reach the Top 16 for a third consecutive season. Now 3-3, after having eliminated Antwerp, MoraBanc is challenging AS Monaco (4-3) and Lietkabelis Panevezys (1-5) for two remaining Top 16 spots in Group C.
But on this night, the standings took a backseat to the feeling of renewal. That was true not just of the COVID sufferers on the team, but of another long-serving teammate, Moussa Diagne, who came off the bench in the third quarter for his first game action in eight months due to injury. It was heartening to see them all just playing, let alone winning, too.
"There were players who played for the first time in eight months, like Moussa Diagne; players that haven't played in the last 21 days," Navarro said afterwards. "To touch the ball and feel like they are basketball players again, and not sick people, is great."