By Stefan Djordjevic/ email@example.com
The 2021-22 campaign of the Basketball Champions League has featured many newcomers and returnees that could challenge the usual rankings. The recently founded Ukrainian club Prometey has been one of those teams and, while a lot was expected of them from the start, they have perhaps exceeded the expectations.
“I see Tenerife as the main favorite and in the second row Tofas and Galatasaray. I would rank us as the main dark horse of the tournament,” Prometey center Miro Bilan told Eurohoops as he perfectly struck the balance between humble, realistic, and confident.
He also explained that, although the familiar names on the roster raise the fans’ expectations, they themselves just took it one step at a time.
“The initial goal was to qualify for the group stage of the competition because our club started the season in the Qualifiers. We succeeded in that with three victories in the tournament in Bulgaria which placed us in the group stage of the competition, where we no longer had a specific goal but went step by step. Let’s try to get to the playoffs, and then let’s try to get into the Top 16, and now we’re trying to get into the Top 8.”
It should also be noted that Bilan has had a very successful run throughout his career when it comes to European competitions, reaching the Top 16 eight straight times including a couple of Top 8 showings. And he did it in BCL, Euroleague and Eurocup alike with Cedevita, SIG Strasbourg, ASVEL, Dinamo Sassari and now Prometey.
Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger
The mindset of not chasing the stars but grabbing what’s right in front of them has worked wonders. Prometey started from the qualifiers but is now in the Round of 16 and very close to the next stage after a 2-0 start.
However, it was far from easy getting to this point. In fact, the Ukrainian team was seconds away from getting eliminated in the best-of-three Play-In series against Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem. Chris Dowe saved the day with a game-winning three-pointer and he was also the hero in the Round of 16 opener against Unicaja with a game-winning four-point play.
— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) February 8, 2022
“Those wins with shots in the final seconds mean incredibly for the self-confidence of the whole squad because they give you faith that you are really good as a team and that you can really make something big happen,” Bilan said.
And it was indeed so for Prometey, no doubt. They followed up both those heroics by Dowe with additional wins and Bilan himself was nothing short of extraordinary in the team’s last game.
The Croatian big went for 38 points on 16-20 from the field while also adding ten rebounds (five on offense, five on defense), two blocks and one assist. He accumulated a total of 46 PIR and his performance marked multiple records in the competition and was without a doubt his career-best display.
He became the first European player combining for 30+ points and 10+ rebounds in a single BCL game ever and only the second player combining for 35+ points and 10+ rebounds in a BCL game after Caleb Green in February 2019.
Additionally, and perhaps most impressively, his 46 PIR is the second-best ever in the competition. Only Steven Gray tops him with 47 PIR from his last season performance with Peristeri.
“It’s by far my career-high, especially in BCL. But 38 points, I never scored so much at the senior level. You feel unbelievable but, in the end, I felt the best when we won. This performance means nothing if you lose. I saw they didn’t double-team, so, I can do that all night. Just like I did,” Bilan said after the game and gave a shoutout to his teammates.
“My teammates trusted me all game long. They were just throwing the ball to me and I appreciate that.”
His teammates certainly appreciated Bilan’s monster display as well with congratulatory shouts filling up the Twitter feed, proving great chemistry among the Prometey lineup.
— Dangelo Harrison (@DeeHarrison21) February 10, 2022
— Sean Evans (@shizzy5) February 10, 2022
Big fella went crazy… 38 piece spicy ? https://t.co/iQGDMSCE9g
— Dj Stephens (@DdotJAY30) February 10, 2022
On the brink of an abyss
Things have been going perfectly for the team on the court and it seems as though that momentum could only be interrupted by an unexpected circumstance that they cannot control. Sadly, however, there is a chance of something like that happening.
With Ukraine being in a tough spot due to a strained relationship with Russia and a chance of invasion or even war breaking out, Prometey might be heavily impacted by that sooner rather than later.
The squad is still together and nobody has ‘bailed out’ despite countries advising their citizens to leave Ukraine. That said, the club decided to move the men’s and women’s teams to the Czech Republic and Bulgaria respectively for at the very least two weeks.
Eurhoops talked to Bilan prior to the decision to move the teams and he expressed the concerns but also the hope that everything will be settled peacefully.
“The situation is tense and, of course, everybody is concerned about what is going to happen. But at the same time, we all hope that a peaceful solution will be found and that there will be no war.”
An optimistic fan of the Croatian national team
Lastly, Bilan spoke to Eurohoops about the situation of the Croatian national team with the qualifying window coming up near the end of February.
“The Croatian national team is currently in quite a tough situation and we have a challenging job ahead in order to bounce back in the race for the World Cup spot. The two games with Sweden await where we could, and should, turn the situation around for the better.”
They started rather badly with 0-2 but Bilan hopes that a more experienced team, with hopefully present Mario Hezonja and Krunoslav Simon, will be able to turn things around.
“I’m optimistic with the reason being that this time we’ll have a more experienced team with higher quality and most likely additionally reinforced with Euroleague players Hezonja and Simon which should be enough for two wins,” he said and clarified his status, noting that he retired from the national play.
“As far as my status is concerned, I retired from the national team after the Olympic Qualifiers last summer. So from now on, I will only be in the role of a fan.”
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League