Will Cummings and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar already have a history in the 7DAYS EuroCup Finals. After he won the title against the Russian side in 2018, Cummings is now hoping to lead the club to such glory this season.
Lokomotiv has its back against the wall with just a 1-3 record in Top 16 Group F, but Cummings and his teammates still hold their quarterfinals destiny in their own hands with two games to go and the 28-year-old is high on the chances of advancing.
"Some keys to prepare for the next games are to find our rhythm from earlier in the season and play with confidence on defense and offense," said Cummings, who has averaged 13.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 0.9 steals this season for Lokomotiv.
Cummings knows about success in the competition after having helped Darussafaka Istanbul to the crown in 2018 – one of the biggest highlights in his career.
"It was an amazing feeling to win a EuroCup title. Just all the hard work and long months of the season paid off in the end," said Cummings, who was in just his second season in Europe after playing the previous season with Aris in Greece.
Looking back, Darussafaka's success seems like less of a surprise now, considering that Cummings' teammates included Scottie Wilbekin, Howard Sant-Roos, Michael Eric, JaJuan Johnson and James Bell, with David Blatt as head coach and former Lithuanian national team head coach Kestutis Kemzura as an assistant.
"Our team was really good when nobody thought so. We always joked we had a EuroLeague roster playing in the EuroCup. A lot of us were friends before coming to the team, so that helped a lot with chemistry," Cummings said.
Cummings' performance over the course of the post-season really says a lot about his perseverance and commitment. He scored more than 8 points just once in the Top 16, quarterfinals and semifinals combined – including just 3 points combined and a minus-1 index rating in 10:34 minutes over two games in the semifinals against FC Bayern Munich.
But when the Finals arrived, he came on as almost a secret-weapon Robin to Wilbekin's Batman with 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in Game 1. He followed that up with 10 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist in Game 2 to help Darussafaka lift the trophy.
"Things clicked well for me in that series just because I stayed mentally ready after not playing a lot in games before. Earlier in the year, I was producing a lot more, then the situation changed. My teammates continued to trust in me and we had each other's backs," said Cummings, who averaged 12.3 points, 1.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the 2017-18 Regular Season. "My mindset going into the Finals was the same it's always been: play hard, play smart, have fun. I was just given the opportunity to play free that series and it showed in the end."
Darussafaka's opponent in the Finals was a Lokomotiv team that had gone undefeated en route to the series, but they could not find an answer for the Wilbekin-Cummings combo. So, Lokomotiv decided two seasons later to bring Cummings to Russia ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.
"During my first year here, we would joke a little bit. Sometimes it still comes up, about winning EuroCup against them," he explained.
In between, Cummings spent one season in Germany playing for EWE Baskets Oldenburg. The team finished second in the German League regular season but was swept in the semifinals by ALBA Berlin. Cummings ended up being named the league MVP as he averaged 21.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.6 steals.
"The biggest thing I learned from my Germany season was how to be a go-to guy for a team," he said.
One significant part of sports is dealing with disappointments, and Cummings had to learn about that in his first season with Lokomotiv. Despite Cummings playing with the likes of Sam Dekker, Johnny O'Bryant and Mantas Kalnietis, Lokomotiv went 4-6 and did not survive the 2019-20 EuroCup Regular Season, a first in the club's seven seasons of EuroCup experience until then. That performance gave the current team a strong desire to make good on the disappointment from last season, and reaching this season's Top 16 is just a start.
"There was a lot of motivation to do better than last season," Cumming said. "Nobody wants to lose, so we wanted to come out and have a better season."
How much better will be decided in the first 10 days of next month, but especially on Lokomotiv's must-win March 3 visit to Group F leader Boulogne Metropolitans 92. A loss there would eliminate Lokomotiv, but a win would open up the possibility of not only qualifying but finishing first in the group after its March 10 home date with Dolomiti Energia Trento. Having stepped up in must-win games before, Cummings is ready for the challenge again.