The basketball principality

2021-01-19T11:57:15+00:00 2021-01-19T11:57:15+00:00.

Aris Barkas

19/Jan/21 11:57

AS Monaco tipped off the Top 16 stage with its biggest 7DAYS EuroCup road win ever and now hopes to keep that momentum going against the first of two Spanish former champions of the competition in its group, Unicaja Malaga.

By Antigoni Zachari/

If at first, you don’t succeed, try again. With that in mind, AS Monaco hopes that this time its 7DAYS EuroCup season will not be cut off by anything that doesn’t let it keep its Turkish Airlines EuroLeague dreams alive.

Based in the principality of Monaco on the French Riviera, the club started its EuroCup journey in 2018 and has yet to miss a Top 16 qualification, despite having a different head coach each season. Monaco is now looking for big things under the guidance of Zvezdan Mitrovic, who knows the club well from his more-than three seasons on its bench right before the team started playing in the EuroCup.

“I feel at home in Monaco. After Montenegro, it is the place where I feel best. The ‘Roca’ team is the choice of the heart,” Mitrovic stated upon his return after spending most of the previous two seasons with LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne.

Mitrovic’s positive influence so far is obvious. The team lost only to Virtus Bologna and Lokomotiv Kuban during the regular season and its 28-point win against Nanterre 92 on the road to open the Top 16 was a strong indicator of quality. Indeed, the 65-93 result amounted to Monaco’s biggest road win in three EuroCup seasons and its second-biggest margin of victory overall. The point total was also Monaco’s second-highest total in its 43 EuroCup games to date.

“I think it’s a great thing to have two French teams play the Top 16 in one group,” Mitrovic said after the game. “I think that’s a great success for French basketball. But we also play with two teams, Joventut and Unicaja, who mean to make it to the finals. This is the first game, the first step, and we had good intensity, yes. It’s a good start; it means nothing yet. But I am happy with how my team played tonight. This is for me what’s most important.”

As Monaco prepares to face those two former EuroCup champions, starting with a visit from Unicaja Malaga on Tuesday, the 50-year-old Mitrovic is fully aware that his team’s EuroCup-leading defense along isn’t enough at this stage. In order to get back to the quarterfinals, as Monaco did last season before it was cancelled, the kind of offensive efficiency that Monaco played in Nanterre need to be the norm, not just the exception.

“I think we played a really good game in both ways, offense and defense. It’s not characteristic for our offense; tonight, we played much better offense than in our games in the [regular season] group, talking about offensive movement,” he said.

Out of the EuroCup’s 24 teams in the regular season, Monaco ranked 17th in points scored. Its average now of 79.91 points in 11 games is way behind fellow Group E rivals Unicaja (87.36 ppg) and Joventut (86.82 ppg).

Recent acquisition Rob Gray may be the boost that Mitrovic’s offense needed. Gray scored 19 points in 20 minutes during his debut against Nanterre last week. The American point guard started the season played four EuroCup contests for Boulogne Metropolitans 92, including one against Unicaja, before moving to Monaco, where he had to wait until now to become eligible again in the EuroCup. Besides his help against Nanterre, Gray has also averaged 16.0 points in three French League games for Monaco, bringing a breath of fresh air into the team’s backcourt after Khadeen Carrington’s injury.

Besides Gray, the team’s floor general, Dee Bost, finally reunited with coach Mitrovic after 2017 in the prime of his career. The 31-year-old guard is producing career-high numbers under the guidance of the Montenegrin coach, with an average of 13.9 points on 39.2% three-point shooting. The “Roca Team” could use all the help it can get from Bost and Gray in outside shooting. Monaco ranks next-to-last in three-point shooting this season at 30.89% while Unicaja ranks first at 41.96%.

Undoubtedly, playing against some of the favorites for the EuroCup title is a huge dare for the French club, but maybe the third time’s the charm!