The second season of Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljana as a unified club has been infinitely better than the first after the club finished the regular season with wins in six of its last seven games to finish second in Group D with a 7-3 record. Reaching the Top 16 is already the best for Olimpija in the EuroCup, though Cedevita was a semifinalist a decade ago.
The start of the season was tough for Olimpija. After coming up short on the road at Nanterre 92 on opening night, the team's next game was postponed due to COVID-19. Olimpija bounced back with a masterpiece at home to beat Herbalife Gran Canaria 84-68 in Round 3 led by Jarrod Johnson, but then mustered only 51 points in a road loss at Dolomiti Energia Trento. When Promitheas Patras was forced to postpone the teams' Round 5 game, Olimpija had time to regroup and would come back stronger than ever with three wins in eight days. Rion Brown posted a double-double in a 75-63 victory over Nanterre on November 4, five days later Jaka Blazic exploded for 33 points in a 104-88 "home" win over Frutti Extra Bursaspor in Turkey and after 48 hours Blazic went for 25 points in an 80-97 road win over the same club. Gran Canaria ended the Olimpija win streak in Round 8, but it would win out the rest of the way with its makeup game against Promitheas between Rounds 9 and 10 – a 77-73 triumph behind Kendrick Perry's 24 points – enough to secure a Top 16 berth with time to spare.
Slovenia native Jaka Blazic first joined Olimpija at the age of 21 in 2011 and played the first two of his seven EuroLeague seasons with the club. After six seasons abroad, Blazic returned to Olimpija last season and has taken the mantle as the team's go-to scorer. He finished the regular season tied for third in the EuroCup in scoring with 17.9 points and his 33 points against Frutti Extra Bursaspor in Round 2 tied for the second-most points in the competition this season. He set club records that night in both scoring and PIR (39) and Blazic, who has made at least 3 three-pointers in half of his games this season, looks to keep shooting his team forward in the Top 16.
Luka Rupnik returned home to Olimpija late in the regular season after five and a half seasons away during which he gained experience with five teams in three countries. The point guard, who averaged 3.3 assists in just 18 minutes per game for Fuenlabrada in the 2016-17 EuroCup, showed he's still got the playmaking knack when he dished 8 assists in his second game back, the regular-season finale versus Promitheas Patras. By the time the Top 16 begins, Rupnik should be fully in the flow of things and simpatico with the rest of the Olimpija lineup, ensuring that the team will have strength at the point guard spot all 40 minutes, every night.
Did you know?
No team takes better care of the ball than Olimpija, whose 10.3 turnovers per game are nearly a full turnover per game lower than the next best team. That is one of the best numbers in competition history: Galatasaray Istanbul set the record with 9.7 per game in the 2012-13 season. Dinamo Sassari averaged 10.0 in 2015-16, though it played just six games. Kendrick Perry, who ranks ninth this season in assists (5.6 apg.) is a big reason for the team's success on this front as his assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.1-to-1 is third-best this season.
Olimpija will continue its pursuit of EuroCup glory in Top 16 Group G. There it will compete with Virtus Segafredo Bologna, Buducnost VOLI Podgorica and the yet-to-be-determined Group A runner-up. Though the current group has not been on a deep run as a group, there is a lot of experienced that can be used to shepherd the team through the Top 16. Roko Ukic has played in a EuroLeague Final Four, Jaka Blazic reached the 2014 EuroCup Semifinals with Crvena Zvezda Belgrade, Rion Brown helped Tofas Bursa get to the EuroCup Quarterfinals last season before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Coach Jurica Golemac took part in the EuroCup Finals as a player with ALBA Berlin in 2010. That experience will surely come in handy as this deep squad enters the Top 16 with high goals.