By Johnny Askounis/ email@example.com
Plenty of surprise packages to begin the 2021-22 Basketball Champions League Regular Season, including Falco Szombathely. Few could have predicted the Hungarian champions taking down both AEK and VEF Riga for a 2-0 start in Group D.
A key part of the perfect run, Zoltan Perl. The Szombathely-born guard carries the experience of 29 BCL games, 25 of those in his current surroundings. He has evolved into a leading star of the team entering his third Regular Season campaign in the competition. Proving the case, the 18.5 points, 6.0 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per contest over the first two games of the 2021-22 season.
“It was an important step because we won on the road,” Perl told Eurohoops following the win opposite VEF Riga, “But we can’t rely on this result to qualify to the next round. We must play with the same energy and focus in the next games.”
Wednesday’s win over the Latvian champions, largely influenced by the 16 points and six assists chipped in by Perl, also signaled a rare triumph on the road in the Champions League. Only two wins in the first ten away games painted the picture across the first two seasons in FIBA’s premier European club continental competition. Overall, 3-9, counting the 2019 Qualifying Rounds.
Perl, 26, going through his third BCL campaign matches overall team history. Coming out of the qualifiers after eliminating Oradea and Ventspils, Szombathely going 6-8 narrowly missed the cut in Group D of the 2019-20 Regular Season. The same in 2020-21, as the 3-3 run fell slightly short of advancing to the next round.
“I grew up here. As a young kid, I cheered for the team,” added Perl to Eurohoops on the connection to his hometown team, “Falco is building step by step. In the first year, we came out of the qualifiers. The second year, we started directly in the group stage. It was also a big success for us. Every season, we aim to build a stronger team and put a higher goal. This season our goal is to qualify to the next round.”
Early signs of the 2021-22 season look good as the team coached by Milos Konakov went up to 2-0, tied with NutriBullet Treviso on top of the Group D standings. The 0-2 for VEF Riga and AEK shapes a solid advantage with four more fixtures remaining. The top-seeded team will advance directly to the Round of 16, while the following second and third will get a second chance through the Play-Ins, among the innovations introduced to the new BCL season.
“I am very proud of my team,” noted Konakov in the postgame press conference, “This win for sure will give us a lot.”
The next two fixtures opposite Treviso will apparently be extremely important, as are all matches in a tight six-game round-robin schedule. However, one of the two sides jumping to a 4-0 lead would all but clinch the first place of the group, while a split would generate more complicated scenarios at the bottom end of the Regular Season.
“I think we prepared for this game very well. This is a team which mostly depends on three-point shooting,” added Boris Barac after contributing 15 points, five rebounds, and three assists for the win in Latvia, “I don’t think many other teams will be able to win here.”
Szombathely has been on a perfect streak launching its 2021-22 campaign. Besides the 2-0 record in the Champions League, the team is up 7-0 in NB I/A as the defending champion at the domestic level.
While Perl was among the returning players, offseason reinforcements arrived in the form of Gyorgy Goloman and Marvin Clark. Both have been solid so far helping in the two straight wins to begin the latest attempt for an extended run in the BCL. Scanning the market for such bargains to effectively strengthen the roster can become a key difference this year.
“I know GG since we were kids. We played together in high school and junior national teams,” recalled Perl describing his relationship with the former UCLA center, “He is a great player, a great guy. I think he is fitting in great in our team.”
“Marvin is the only new guy, who didn’t know anyone on the team prior to his arrival,” he added on the second summer addition, “He needed a little more time to adjust in our system, but he is also a good guy, a good player showing he can help us a lot. I think our best weapon is the team chemistry and system.”
The Hungarian guard made his pro debut at Falco back in 2012-13. After a couple of seasons in Italy and a stint in Spain, he returned to Szombathely for the most recent chunk of his promising career.
“I always put short-term goals for myself to focus better and achieve my goals,” he pointed out to Eurohoops, “My expectation for this season is to make it through the BCL group stage and defend the championship and cup in Hungary. Of course, I want to play my best in every game, enjoy every game, and show what I can do. In the end, we will see what the long-term future holds for me.”
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League