For Prometey, it’s about more than basketball

2023-03-28T12:00:54+00:00 2023-03-27T22:14:00+00:00.

Aris Barkas

28/Mar/23 12:00

Prometey Slobozhanske is the hottest team in the 7DAYS EuroCup, having won 10 straight games despite playing 1,500 kilometers away from their home due to the ongoing war in Ukraine

Βy Aris Barkas/

Back in 1992, a rookie coach named Zeljko Obradovic led Partizan Belgrade to the EuroLeague title in a season that ended up being historic for more than one reason. It was an impressive start for a coaching icon, and the final was decided on a buzzer-beating half-court shot by Sasa Djordjevic, however, there’s something that stands outs even more.

Due to the ongoing war in the former Yugoslavia, Partizan played all of its home games not at home in the Serbian capital, but in the city of Fuenlabrada, Spain.

Fast forward to today. Thirty years later, there’s an ongoing war in Europe again and Prometey is taking the 7DAYS EuroCup by storm. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the club decided to continue its basketball activities and to play all of its home games in another country, in Riga, Latvia.

And the results have been impressive so far. Prometey is undefeated since starting the season 3-4. At this point, it leads Group A with a 13-4 record, one win more than pre-season favorite Joventut Badalona. With the last regular season game at home, in Riga, against Umana Reyer Venice, Prometey can secure the top of the standings and become suddenly the team to beat.

Unlike Partizan version 1992, this is a team full of veterans at every level. Israeli head coach Ronen Ginzburg is not a rookie. He coached the Czech national team in EuroBasket 2015 and 2017 as well as the 2020 Summer Olympics, taking full advantage of a generation spearheaded by FC Barcelona stars Tomas Satoransky and Jan Vesely.

“Obviously, we didn’t expect that 10-win streak”, Ginzburg admitted. “Nobody did. We have a new team, not all the players are top EuroCup level, but we built great chemistry. Our goal was just to make the playoffs.”

Still, the roster includes battle-tested players in Europe, like 2019 Italian champion DJ Kennedy who unfortunately got injured; high-flying DJ Stephens; former Promitheas Patras guard Gian Clavell; center Ondrej Balvin, who is on his sixth EuroCup season; and top Ukrainian players such as Oleksandr Lypovyy, who also played in Greece for Promitheas; and Issuf Sanon who tried his luck back in the 2019-20 season with Cedevita Olimpija Ljubljana.

Add to the mix first-year forward Caleb Agada, who flashed his credentials early. During the pre-season, Prometey managed to beat Fenerbahce in a preparation tournament in Turkey with Agada leading the way with 18 points and 4 steals. At the time it was a footnote, with Fenerbahce missing a lot of its players at the time.

However, now it seems like an obvious sign of things to come with Agada being the top scorer on the hottest EuroCup team. And with Gran Canaria being the only team with a better record, though in a different regular season group, the sky is the limit.

Not bad at all for a new team, as Coach Ginzburg explained: “We built the squad from zero, and we knew we can’t play at home, so we moved to Riga in Latvia, which is 1,500 kilometers away from Dnipro. We have seven Ukrainian players, who brought their wives and kids with them, and the team rented apartments for everyone.”

There have not been any complaints, either.

“Let’s face it: we live in a good city, everyone has a place to live, and the surrounding conditions are excellent. We have a high-level training facility, and a great arena,” Ginzburg added.

In the shadow of war

So how do you prepare a team when there’s an ongoing war affecting everyone involved with the club?

Coach Ginzburg fully understood the situation from the first moment and had a simple rule which has so far worked, without even having to be used: “It is very complex. In the first practice before the new season, I gathered the players and presented them with a rule: if someone feels they have a problem and is not focused, it’s okay not to practice or not play, as long as they say so. No one has asked for it to date, despite the pressures on them. So it is true that the spouses and children are with them, but as you said, some of them left parents and siblings behind and when they hear about Russian attacks on the cities, everyone here goes on alert.”

Meanwhile, there were practical issues involving the war that Prometey had to deal with.

“There was another element that affected us: the obligation to enlist in the Ukrainian army and the prohibition to leave the country,” Ginzburg explained. “Because most of the players appear on the national team, they were exempted, but the staff members – my assistant, the fitness trainer, the physiotherapist – had to travel every month to the border crossing, enter Ukraine, and renew their confirmation. Since there are no flights, they traveled 48 hours each way each time. Two months ago they stopped this procedure.”

Of course, that’s a footnote to the suffering of a whole country and Prometey fully understands what it represents.

“Usually 1,000 people come to our games in Riga, some of them local citizens and others Ukrainian refugees who now live here,” Ginzburg said. “Since we play in a 10,000-seat arena, we don’t really enjoy a full-house atmosphere, but there were two times when the arena was full, so we went to Zalgirio Arena in Kaunas, which is even bigger.”

And sometimes the war simply comes to you and then it hits you and motivates you. This happened during after the first couple of home games of the season in the EuroCup when Ginzburg and his players understood for good that they also have to fight in their own way.

“The most exciting moment I had in the last year was when club president Volodimir Dubinsky organized two buses of fans from Dnipro, who came all the way to Latvia to watch our games in the EuroCup. He arranged for their hotel rooms in the city and they earned a few days of respite. I looked around, looked at the faces of the people, and I could see that they were going through a terrible thing. In the dressing room, before the game, I said to the players, ‘If these people invested and came all the way here, during a war, who are we not to fight on the court?’ So they went on the floor and won.”