By Johnny Askounis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Casademont Zaragoza officially advanced to the Basketball Champions League playoffs by taking down Nizhny Novgorod in overtime Tuesday. Red-hot Dylan Ennis was among the main offensive weapons in the Regular Season Gameday 9 affair. Following his latest solid showing including a key role in the late comeback, he discussed his remarkable 2020-21 campaign with Eurohoops presenting his case for a long Champions League run.
“It was a long trip. We had a few difficulties at the border as well because of visas and COVID. We had everything we needed. But obviously traveling is a little crazy right now,” he said describing traveling to Russia, “We made sure because we had such a long trip that we did not come here to lose. Knowing we can advance and be in first place with that win, I think it gave us an extra edge.”
His side guided by Argentine head coach Sergio Hernandez stormed back from a double-digit early in the fourth quarter to prevail after five extra minutes and secure the clinching victory. Ennis produced 22 points, seven assists, and four rebounds in 37 minutes. There is still one Group D match to play against Pszczolka Start Lublin before the next round consisting of the 16 advancing teams split into four new groups.
“We are not looking forward to the playoffs yet,” noted Ennis, older brother of injured Turk Telekom point guard Tyler, “Some teams would let up because they have that free game. We want to be killers and make sure we play our best every time we are on the court. A good game from us in our next outing could help us for the rest of the season.”
A couple of narrow wins versus Nizhny Novgorod, another close one with Lublin in Poland, and splitting the two meetings with Falco Szombathely shaped up the 4-1 record, good enough to progress through Group D with one game in hand. The Russian and Hungarian clubs will battle it out for the second advancing slot.
“The season has been great so far. I am glad where we are at. We are getting better every day. I just hope we continue to get better and give us the chance to win it all,” he told Eurohoops, “We had a lot of close games. Obviously, I would rather have blowouts if we can. We can win by a larger margin. It shows that this league is so competitive.”
The Champions League Regular Season features 32 teams from 18 different countries stretching all around Europe each bringing in a unique approach. It’s certainly a difficult task for any side to prove its value, even those with a rich history in European club competitions and more players adapted at a higher level. There is a legitimate chance for every single participating team to move forward.
“The BCL has added so many new teams. There is a big versatility in the field of teams,” Ennis told Eurohoops, “I think it’s great. The BCL gets better every year. I just enjoy the competition we face in every game.”
The 29-year-old guard returned to Zaragoza for a second stint at the beginning of the 2019-20 season and in June inked a new contract to remain at the Spanish city, which he considers his second home. His first Basketball Champions League season extended into the Final Eight held in Athens between September 30 and October 4 drawing a fourth-place finish.
“Re-signing was a no-brainer this year with everything going on,” he explained, “I want to be comfortable. With Zaragoza being a second home to me, from everybody coming back, me being great with the management, also my family loves the city and the fans are amazing. I knew that this is where I wanted to be this year.”
“It’s very important for us to try to go all the way this year. We were so close last year coming forth,” he added on his BCL goals, “Being on that stage, it can help us this year if we are able to get back there. It puts a year of experience under our belt. We know what to expect on that stage now. With that, the players and the coach we have, we can really make a run to win it all this year.”
Head coach Hernandez took over in November. He has since boosted Zaragoza providing his wealthy experience by motivating the players and setting up the optimal situation for every member of the squad, including Ennis.
“He was so big for us. Before he came, we are at a place of a little confusion. Nobody knew their roles. We all knew we had the team to win games, but it just wasn’t clicking,” he recalled, “We have gotten better, He gives everybody the confidence to play their game. He plays free basketball, he loves to run and quick shots. That’s the type of team we are. He’s pushing us to be a better defensive team. As of late, we are getting a lot better on the defensive end.”
Ennis has been averaging 21.2 points per match since late November. His offensive contribution has been indeed paired with several key victories in both the Basketball Champions League and the ACB, widely accepted as the top domestic competition of the continent.
“I couldn’t say enough about him. He personally gives me all the confidence in the world,” he said regarding his amazing performances under Hernandez, “I think I am playing my best basketball in Europe so far and it’s because of him. He puts everybody in a position to be successful. I am just glad we have him on our team.”
Apart from more success with Zaragoza, Ennis, a former member of the Jamaica national team, hopes he can extend his solid season into FIBA international tournaments and the Canada national team. The Toronto-born player is among the players in the pool for the approaching 2022 FIBA Americas qualifiers in February and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament planned to be hosted by Canada this summer.
“Canada has been doing a great job staying in contact with me and keeping me in the players’ pool,” he told Eurohoops regarding his current status, “As a player competing in Europe, I think I can definitely help Team Canada. Hopefully, I will be able to represent my country at the Olympic Games one day.”
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League