Just five days ago, Spanish side Baskonia opened their new season. They won the first game of ACB, the Spanish league, against Zaragoza, led by the performances of captain Toko Shengelia and former Orlando Magic forward Patricio Garino.
But this season won’t be just like every other else for the Spanish team. Baskonia, in fact, will celebrate their seventieth anniversary and will host the Euroleague Final Four in Vitoria, making this one a historical moment for the team since that is where they are based. The fans understand the importance of that and showed their passion already in the offseason, buying more than 10,000 season tickets, a new record for the club. The Fernando Buesa Arena, the stadium in which Baskonia plays their home games, has a capacity of 15,716 people, so the arena will be basically packed for the entire year with only the season tickets.
With such an important season coming on the court, Baskonia decided to keep intact most of last season’s roster. Despite big-time offers from other teams, including CSKA Moscow, Toko Shengelia stayed with the Baskonia and signed a contract extension until 2022, confirming himself as the true leader of the team. The frontcourt is very loaded with Vincent Poirier, Ilimane Diop, and Johannes Voigtmann, while in the backcourt retains a lot of experience with Marcelinho Huertas, Jayson Granger, and Matt Janning, who recently obtained Georgian passport.
But the Spanish side also added a couple of new faces for the upcoming Euroleague season. Shavon Shields, a Nebraska alum who shined in the past season with Italian side Aquila Basket Trento, joined the squad. Shields averaged 11.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in Eurocup last season and scared Olimpia Milano during the finals of the Italian league, averaging 21 points per game and scoring more than 30 points in games 1 and 3. His offensive and defensive versatility could present a huge boost for Baskonia. Shields has also Danish passport, so he can play as a European player.
The other newcomer in Vitoria is former Villanova swingman, Darrun Hilliard. Drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the 38th pick overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, Hilliard struggled to find a place in the NBA. Last season he signed a two-way contract with the San Antonio Spurs but spent most of the season playing in G League with the Austin Spurs, averaging 21.3 points per game while shooting 40% from the three-point line. This will be Hilliard’s first season in Europe but his skill set seems like the right kind of fit for Pedro Martinez’s system. Hilliard can create his own shot and he’s able to defend against multiple positions, and his three-point shooting can add another threat.
After a very difficult beginning of the past season, Baskonia parted ways with Pablo Prigioni and hired Pedro Martinez. The former Valencia head coach was able to put the team back on the track and led Baskonia to the Euroleague playoffs and the ACB Finals, where they lost against Real Madrid.
Martinez won the ACB title with Valencia back in 2017 and knows what it takes to bring this team to the next level. However, his main goal will be to lead Baskonia to the Euroleague Final Four. The team has missed that target in the last two years but this time, with the possibility of playing it at home, Baskonia can’t deny that the Euroleague Final Four is a must for them. Captain Toko Shengelia stressed that the Final Four doesn’t need to become an obsession but it has to be a motivation to become a better team.
The target to accomplish won’t be easy at all, Baskonia will face a lot of competition in Euroleague. From reigning champs Real Madrid to Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, from Lithuanian rising force Zalgiris Kaunas to Greek sides Panathinaikos and Olympiacos, there are tough teams everywhere. But with a loaded roster and the Fernando Buesa Arena packed, we can’t rule out Baskonia as one of the main competitors in the upcoming Euroleague season.
To celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the club there’d be nothing better than a Euroleague title or the Liga Endesa and everybody inside the team knows that. But it’ll be a tough challenge to accomplish. Now it’s up to Toko Shengelia and his teammates to transform a ‘normal’ season in a historical one.