UNICS Kazan returns to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague after four dominant campaigns in the 7DAYS EuroCup and new head coach Velimir Perasovic has a long and talented roster with which to take the competition by storm.
The secret to the backcourt may be that so many players can fill either guard role. Lorenzo Brown brings point guard skills to a shooting guard's body, while Isaiah Canaan can be a go-to scorer in a point guard's body. When playing together, they will have opposing defenders on their heels. Vyacheslav Zaytsev brings bounds of EuroLeague experience and was Khimki Moscow Region's leader for stretches last season. Marco Spissu, a member of the Italian team at the 2020 Olympic Games, is a natural playmaker who will play outside his native country and in the EuroLeague for the first time. The rest of the team should benefit from his passing skills. Sharpshooter Artem Komolov is also new to the EuroLeague and his deep range will earn him minutes. Swingman Mario Hezonja is a thundering offensive force with a complete package to attack the rim and knock down perimeter shots. The ever-physical Georgy Zhbanov should be a defensive ace Coach Perasovic can call on to slow down opposing stars. Dmitrii Uzinskii returns for a third straight season with UNICS as a reliable and heady reserve.
An All-EuroCup selection last season, John Brown will rely on his toughness and athleticism to make waves in the paint in his premier EuroLeague campaign. He will team up with a few veterans in the power forward rotation; Three-time champion Andrey Vorontsevich wrote the book on the prototypical modern '4' and after a season outside the competition will be hungry. Evgeny Valiev is a beast on the offensive glass who will do all the blue-collar work needed. Old-school center Tonye Jekiri is also an elite offensive rebounder. Between Jekiri and Artem Klimenko, UNICS will have size and power at center, though Perasovic can always get creative by using some of his forwards at the '5' for a smaller, quicker lineup.
PLAYER TO WATCH
For whatever team he has played for at whatever stage in his career, Mario Hezonja has always been a player to watch. He plays with a mix of power and finesse, but is as aggressive as they come about getting the ball in the basket. Because of those traits, fans seem to fall in love with Super Mario at every stop, too. That will likely be the case in Kazan, too. The plethora of weapons UNICS has should only make Hezonja more dangerous, though there will be a natural learning period as the perimeter stars on the team learn to play off of one another. When they have it all figured out, UNICS will be fun to watch with Hezonja as one of its big leaders.
Even though UNICS Kazan has not played in the EuroLeague since 2016-17, Coach Perasovic and co. will not be overwhelmed by the moment when the season tips off at home against fellow Russian side Zenit St Petersburg on October 1. The team has plenty of experience in the locker room and endless talent on the court. The challenge for a team with a new coach and nine new players will be coming together quickly and establishing on-court chemistry. Perasovic has proven to be a master in overseeing that department and getting his teams to challenge for big goals quickly. That is surely the goal this season in Kazan.