By Cesare Milanti / email@example.com
On January 15, Telekom Baskets Bonn played against ALBA Berlin – one of the two German teams which are currently in the EuroLeague – and lost. That was the first defeat following a nine-game winning streak between Bundesliga and Basketball Champions League, and from then on, they managed to get another winning streak, this time a seventeen-game one.
If in the domestic league, they’ve been basically unstoppable, losing only the other two games against ALBA Berlin and Ludwigsburg back at the beginning of the season, in the BCL things weren’t different. Opening the European campaign with a home defeat against UNAHOTELS Reggio Emilia, Tuomas Iisalo‘s team never lost anymore, minding the gap between them and the rest of the competition. But then, SIG Strasbourg and Marcus Keene happened.
Facing one of the most – if not the most – favorite teams to advance to the Basketball Champions League Final Four, the French team coached by Luca Banchi pulled the upset, taking down the white-and-pink club with an unstoppable Marcus Keene, who produced 9 points with 1:55 minutes left in the fourth quarter to put his team up front.
The decisive shot is already part of the BCL history, and Marcus can’t have anything but good vibes about it. “I feel good, most importantly we got the win, and we stole the first one on the road. Hopefully, we can close it at home”, he said in an interview with Eurohoops ahead of Game 2 of their best-of-three Quarter-Finals series with Telekom Baskets Bonn.
— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) April 5, 2023
The 27-year-old American guard joined SIG Strasbourg in the summer of 2022 following a year between Cedevita Olimpija and Pallacanestro Varese. With the Slovenian club, he managed to play some EuroCup games, averaging 9.0 with excellent crazy numbers from two (85.7%) and from the arc (43.8%).
Having experienced both competitions below the EuroLeague, Marcus Keene finds something in common between them. “The games in both EuroCup and Basketball Champions League are very physical. I’ve only played a couple of EuroCup games, but I feel like once you step out of your domestic league, in both European competitions the game gets more physical, and you’re allowed to play harder”, he said about the physicality shown in both leagues.
He is now one of the most impressive and unguardable offensive players in the whole Basketball Champions League, but at the beginning of the season, he wasn’t at his best. While doing pretty well in Europe, SIG Strasbourg’s start of the year in the LNB was hard, and Lassi Tuovi was sacked.
After having played a consistent volume of games under both the Finnish head coach and Luca Banchi, who joined the team in mid-November, the CMU Chippewas product had nothing but good words for his head coaches. “Coach Lassi is more laid back, allowing the players to play freer, while Coach Luca says “This is what we are gonna do, and we are gonna do it”. I apologize to Lassi for not making some of the shots that I’m making now earlier in the season because maybe things would have been different for our team and for him. Both allowed me to be me, I’ve always been able to be who I am. I love Coach Luca, and it’s been good since he got here”, he added about both Tuovi and Banchi.
With the Italian leader, who faced the American point guard as an opponent in the clash between Pallacanestro Varese – where he averaged 18.7 points and 4.5 assists in 19 LBA games – and Victoria Libertas Pesaro, Marcus Keene has created good chemistry. “We have a great relationship; we talk all the time. He has been coaching at a high level for years now, and I always try to pick his brain over the point guards he has coached in his career. That’s my goal, trying to get there and constantly working to get to the next level”, he commented on his relationship with his head coach and mentor.
Following Game 1 in Germany, SIG Strasbourg couldn’t keep it up in the French league, being beaten by Victor Wembanyama and Metropolitans 92. “The guy is unreal. He’s tall as hell! Some of the things that he does… you’re like “Wow”. He barely has to jump to dunk the ball, he can dunk you from so far. He’s long, he can shoot. It’s crazy watching him out there, especially cause the court is so small, he’s able to take so much more space, and he will do that of course in the NBA. He’s always somewhere around: even though you don’t feel he’s close, he actually is. I really like the young kid, I hope and I’m sure he’ll be good. He’s crazy”, Marcus Keene commented on the next NBA generational talent.
If you arrived until this point in this article, you already know the outcome of Game 1, with Telekom Baskets Bonn being down on their knees following Marcus Keene’s winning three-pointer. It was a battle between a well-equipped team. “To close Game 2 we have to play exactly like we played in Game 1. We have to cut down our turnovers and limit them with the offensive boards, for sure. They’ve got the likely MVP of the league, and they are the perfect P&R team you can find around, with efficient shooters. Bonn is fully complete, so we have to play our best game to get the second consecutive victory against them”, the former Pallacanastro Varese guard stated on his opponents.
Moreover, this has been only the first chapter of the saga where Marcus Keene goes against TJ Shorts II, who will probably be the 2023 BCL Most Valuable Player after an amazing run from the Regular Season all the way to the Quarter-Finals. “We don’t know each other personally, but I know he just wants to compete against the best players in this competition. The challenge is good for me because he’s the same size as me: you never want somebody in your same position to get the best of you. It will be the same battle because I know who he is and he knows who I am. We will try not to let each other get the best of each other”, he said about his rival on Telekom Baskets Bonn’s backcourt.
Following Massimo Cancellieri‘s takes on the Quarter-Finals and on favorite teams to reach the Final Four, the 27-year-old also shared his opinion. “I haven’t watched a lot of games, but I’d say Unicaja Malaga with Kendrick Perry and an amazing squad, Hapoel Jerusalem, even though I feel we should have beaten them, got a full complete team, and then obviously Lenovo Tenerife Tenerife: you can’t disrespect them, they know what they’re doing. And Bonn, because they have been doing great as well”, he said about who can potentially go all the way until the end.
Averaging 18.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game, Marcus Keene is dragging SIG Strasbourg, which can also count on important assets such as DeAndre Lansdowne, Leo Cavaliere, Tim Frazier, and Ike Udanoh among others. They are now one win away from reaching the Basketball Champions League Final Four, where anything can happen. “Other than the rest of the teams, we’ve been also right where we were supposed to be all throughout the year, of course”, he added.
“I’m always the type of guy who’s smiling and cheering on teammates, being happy and bringing that energy to the locker room. The mood is being ups and downs, I’m not gonna lie. We lost four in a row before beating Bonn, so now we have to get back to playing for each other like we did in Game 1, respecting and enjoying the game. We have the opportunity to get where we wanted to be at the beginning of the season. We feel good about everything, we have to go out there and prove it”. He seems ready to do it again, closing the series and unlocking the Final Four. If you have plans for tonight, cancel them: Marcus Keene may have something planned by the time Game 2 will live its final minutes.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Champions League