By Johnny Askounis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Miro Bilan packed with plenty of experience and on a roll in the first half of the 2020-21 Basketball Champions League Regular Season pushes Dinamo Banco di Sardegna Sassari in a winning direction. A 3-0 start in a very challenging Group A does not offer any guarantees but the Italian outlet is certainly approaching a playoffs berth with only three games left.
“The six-game format is very good. Every second week is off, so you can rest and don’t need to travel so much. The groups are even more interesting due to the reduced number of games,” Bilan told Eurohoops and jokingly furthered into a soccer connection, “It reminds a little bit of the UEFA Champions League, which can’t be bad.”
The 31-year-old Croatian center joined Sassari prior to the 2019-20 season. He averaged 11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per contest in his second BCL season, first with his current team, but has certainly taken it a step further this year. Three solid outings have improved his contribution to 17.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per match. “I will do my best to keep going like this. We will see in the end if I have managed to do so,” he claimed.
The team coached by Gianmarco Pozzecco based in Sardinia beat Galatasaray Doga Sigorta and Iberostar Tenerife at home and extended the perfect record with a road win versus the Bakken Bears Wednesday. “We just have to take it one game at a time. We are 3-0. We have good momentum. We have to keep playing as a team,” noted Jason Burnell in the post-game press conference following the third winning display.
“Traveling is a lot different this year,” Bilan replied to Eurohoops after the trip back from Denmark, “You must wear a mask all the time, which is not easy when traveling for several hours. But on the other hand, the planes are not full so for tall people like us it easier to find space for our legs and be more comfortable.”
The Italian side was part of the inaugural Champions League season making it all the way to the quarterfinals. That remains the longest in the FIBA’s premier European club competition. A narrow playoffs berth miss resulted in a transfer to FIBA Europe Cup in 2017-18, while in 2018-19 went through the entire Europe Cup season capturing the first European title in team history. San Pablo Burgos on the way to its own European triumph eliminated Sassari last season, prior to the hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We changed almost the whole team, so the new guys don’t have that experience from last year,” pointed out Bilan recalling the 2019-20 conclusion, “I think it will not help a lot. As for our expectations this season, we want to take at least one step further.”
Pozzecco, 48, took over in February 2019 marking a very impressive turnaround. Following the FIBA Europe Cup triumph earning the former player European glory missing during his days on the court as one of the continent’s most unique point guards, he guided his side to an 11-3 record in the 2019-20 Regular Season up to the Burgos roadblock and to a 3-0 start this year.
“He has a huge impact on the team,” Bilan noted referring to his head coach, “First of all, he is a great coach and also because he has a great passion for helping his players in giving them confidence in good and bad moments.”
The Regular Season schedule reduced to six games in the effort to keep BCL action going at the best possible competitiveness level through the coronavirus pandemic adds plenty of value on the three wins so far, but three more challenging affairs remain, including visiting Tenerife and Galatasaray. That being said, the approaching third BCL playoffs berth will not be the ultimate goal for Bilan and teammates.
“I think we are very close because of these three wins,” he told Eurohoops looking forward to extending the run past the group stage, “We are also in a good situation because of the point difference over Tenerife and Galatasaray.”
Before making his way to his current team in Italy, Bilan played a couple of seasons in France taking part in the 2017-18 Basketball Champions League season attached to SIG Strasbourg. His 2018-19 stint with LDLC ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne returned him to EuroCup for a fifth run following his four with Cedevita. The long tenure with the Croatian club also featured 43 EuroLeague appearances between three seasons.
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League