By Antigoni Zachari / firstname.lastname@example.org
While most of the world is technically prohibited from making trips these days, the logistics of safety protocols in the COVID-19 era makes their necessary travel a complicated procedure for most professional sports teams to follow.
Despite the difficulties, UNICS Kazan and Gran Canaria – the EuroCup’s geographical outliers from Kazan, Russia and Las Palmas, Spain, respectively – have managed to keep their focus throughout a season of exhausting travel to reach the semifinals.
This Friday, both will leave their suitcases aside, for a change, and try to avoid elimination by evening their best-of-three series, UNICS hosting Virtus Bologna and Gran Canaria welcoming AS Monaco in Game 2. For UNICS and Gran Canaria, these do-or-die dates come at the end of a week when both had to cover a roughly 6,000-kilometer round-trip distance, UNICS going to Bologna and Gran Canaria to Monaco for their games in those places on Tuesday. Both, however, are used to long-haul competitiveness.
Gran Canaria, located off the coast of northwest Africa in the Canary Islands, is the westernmost team in either the EuroCup of Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and by far the furthest team from the continent’s mainland. It takes more than 2 hours for the islanders just to reach the closest major airports on that mainland, in southern Spain. UNICS, the easternmost team in either competition, is no less of a traveler, needing nearly as much time to reach Moscow and “begin” its travels from there.
Luckily for Gran Canaria, its semifinals opponent, Monaco, is about the closest non-Spanish League rival that the team has ever faced in the competition, even if the roughly 3,000-kilometer distance between the two clubs can hardly be overlooked. UNICS has had it a little tougher, with 3,500 kilometers each way to Bologna, but had it easier in the three-game quarterfinals facing fellow-Russian side Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar.
But long distances are nothing but the norm for each of these teams. To put things into perspective, here are the distances they have traveled so far this season:
|Round||Distance (round trip)|
|Regular season||~46,200 km (5 road games)|
|Top 16||~27,200 km (3 road games)|
|Quarterfinals||~6,200 km (1 road game)|
|Semifinals||~6,000 km (1 road game)|
|Round||Distance (round trip)|
|Regular season||~34,800 km (5 road games)|
|Top 16||~29,600 km (3 road games)|
|Quarterfinals||~3,000 km (1 road game)|
|Semifinals||~6,800 km (1 road game)|
Altogether, their trips add up to sum total of 160,000 kilometers round-trip for 20 games since October!
Within those numbers was the longest trips of in the Euroleague Basketball world, when UNICS and Gran Canaria visited each other in the Top 16. Those marked the fifth and sixth games between the two over the years, each demanding a stunning 14,000-kilometer round trip.
Despite the distance between them and the rest of the competition, however, both UNICS and Gran Canaria have prospered in the EuroCup through the years. UNICS was the 2011 champion and has reached at least the quarterfinals in nine other seasons. Gran Canaria was the 2014-15 runner-up and has played in the quarterfinals or later five times.
Now, with their backs against the wall, these kings of travel have on desire above all – to win on Friday and hit the road one more time to try to reach the EuroCup Finals!