Βy Cesare Milanti/ firstname.lastname@example.org
The last time Frutti Extra Bursaspor played a 7DAYS EuroCup game in Italy, it didn’t go well for Dusan Alimpijevic’s team. Virtus was at home, with its famous crowd, and the black-and-white team lifted the trophy in Bologna.
That’s why, in the run-up to last week’s Group A clash against Umana Reyer Venice, the Turkish side was prepared for anything. Well, almost anything. Coming out of the locker room for the third quarter, Reyer forward Derek Willis had just two points and his team led 34-31. Ten minutes later, he was his team’s highest scorer with 17 points
It looked like Bursaspor wasn’t ready for the American forward, who ended the game with a double-double of 19 points and 13 rebounds, achieving a PIR of 31 that earned him the Round 7 MVP honor.
It was the first time since Round 5 of the 2019-20 EuroCup, when he played for ratiopharm Ulm, that Willis has earned the MVP distinction, and part of the credit goes to the whole Reyer team that he was convinced to sign for in the summer.
“Before I signed with Reyer, I looked at our team as a EuroLeague club, with the talent we were putting together,” Willis told Eurohoops. “We’re an intriguing team and we can go as far as we want to go. Right now, we are trying to iron out all the pieces, trying to figure out the whole squad together. I think once we get everything on board with that and start putting together some consistent wins, we can go as far as we want to go.”
Reyer, coached by Walter De Raffaele, is currently 5-2 in Group A, one of the hottest teams in the competition. Willis has been enjoying his first season with Reyer, fighting in what still looks like a ruthless EuroLeague despite seeing some high-level teams graduate to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
“Despite losing great teams like Partizan, Virtus, and Valencia, the level of the EuroCup is still competitive,” Willis said. “I think we’ll have a good run in the EuroCup once we get the group stage finished. There are some teams that really surprised me this year, like Bourg-en-Bresse. I thought they would have been in the mix, not really close to the highest positions, but they’ve been playing well together as a team. Also, I know how strong Badalona and Gran Canaria are: those are top teams. I think at the end it will depend on who’s going be the most prepared and locked-in.”
Reyer Venice has always been synonymous with continuity, both in the Italian league and in the EuroCup, with players like Stefano Tonut, Mitchell Watt, Michael Bramos, Julyan Stone, and Austin Daye hooping in the Venetian lagoon for several seasons.
In the summer of 2022, however, a wind of change arrived from the Adriatic Sea, and only a few pieces of the puzzle stayed alongside Walter De Raffaele.
Willis has been part of the new additions to the squad along with Marco Spissu, Jayson Granger, Allerik Freeman, and Jordan Parks.
De Raffaele, as anticipated, is the link between the past, present, and future. And Willis, 27, appreciates the way he’s been used so far.
“I like that I have a lot of plays that put me in the actions,” he says. “There are times when the gameplan requires me to be off the ball, but in general he has a million plays he can run. He’s had past success with winning the Italian League and the Italian Cup, so I trust him. We just need to put everything together now.”
One of the brightest players on Reyer this year loves his new city. “I’m in Venice as much as I can be,” he says. “I like the whole vibe of it. It’s an awesome and amazing city.”
After three seasons in the EuroCup, including his first with Ulm and the last one with Joventut Badalona, who Reyer visits on Wednesday in Round 8, Willis knows his way around the competition, which is another benefit his new team gets from the forward.
“Last year, I had a great experience in Badalona with our run in the EuroCup Regular Season. Unfortunately, we didn’t do well in the playoffs, going out in the first round,” he recalled. “I like the new format because it reminds me of college basketball. I would say that I feel like a veteran in this competition.”