Season 2015/16. Fantom Menace

Our web-site begins introducing the teams that will participate in the 2015/2016 season. We remind you that there will be 16 teams from 8 different countries competing in this year’s VTB United League. They will each face each other twice in home and away legs to determine the top eight teams that will continue to battle in the Play-offs.

Let us first take a closer look at the teams that aren’t considered title favorites. Although, not many believe that these squads are in the contention, they are more than capable and feel highly motivated to raise a few eyebrows among fans and people in the media, covering the sport. These teams are the fantom menace this season.

Vita (Georgia)

Last season 
Did not participate

The expectations
The headliner of Georgian basketball in the 90’s has been given a second life this year. This will be a debut season for VTB United League’s most intriguing team. Georgian players make up the core of the rotation, young Ukrainian center Kostyantyn Anikeenko is a probable starter in the middle. He will be getting support from a young trio of newcomers from NCAA. Not even the team’s head coach Pavel Googe is ready to make predictions about his team’s play at that point in time. He did however mention that he was impressed with the team’s potential.

The Leader
It’s hard to single any one player on Vita’s evenly balanced roster. Coach Googe has plans to make a key addition after the NBA training camps wrap up and more quality players will be looking to sign with teams overseas.

The Addition
Darius Carter. A 22-year old American forward spent the last two seasons in the NCAA, averaging 11.4 ppg and 5.4 rpg for Wichita State. Also worth mentioning is his close relationship with Cleveland Cavalier’s superstar LeBron James, who is close friends with Darius’ father Maverick Carter and would even come to watch little Darius play. Perhaps a day will come when the 4-time NBA MVP will show his support again and visit Tbilisi?

The Quote
Pavel Googe. Vita’s head coach.
It is up to the coaching staff to prepare the best possible team for the game day, given all of club’s qualifications and resources. We have to put our players in the best position to win games. What brand of basketball will we play? Our first two games are against Krasny Oktaybr and CSKA, so we shall wait and see.

Tsmoki-Minsk (Belarus)

Last season: 15th place (7W-23L).

The Expectations
Tsmoki-Minsk didn’t blow up their roster in the offseason, instead they were rather conservative. The club preferred to give more playing time to the young local talented players, kept their core intact and added two players to fill the necessary spots. All of that means that Minsk shouldn’t experience any chemistry or locker room issues.

The Leader
Ivan Marash. However, one of Tsmoki’s other strong suits is the absence of a single designated leader, as trouble for their opponents can come from multiple directions. The list of names includes a productive Justin Gray, rim oriented Branko Mirkovic, skilled newcomers Garrett Stunz and Anthony Hillard and Aliaksandr Kudrautsau, who is going through the second youth. Opponents have so many threats to cover and so little time to react on defense, but the name of Ivan Marash definitely stands out on opponent’s scouting reports. Last season Marash played in all 30 games and led his team in minutes played and both points and rebounds.

The Addition
Anthony Hillard. Last season Hillard had a strong year playing guard for the Bisons. In 25 games he averaged 14.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg and dished for 3.1 apg. If the preseason games are anything to go by, the American played very comfortably and looked ready to continue where he had left off.

The Quote
Igor Grischuk. Tsmoki-Minsk’s head coach.
We preserved our veteran players and added a group of young guys. We’re ready to bet on them and develop basketball in Belarus. I’m happy with the people I am working with and the system, we won’t need any time to adapt to one another. I hope we are prepared in the best possible.

VEF (Latvia)

Last Season: 10th place (12W–18L).

The Expectations
Management in Riga agreed on a major offseason overhaul. Head coaching position was offered to a Spanish specialist Carlos Frade who has a successful history of working with young players, which became the key argument in his favor. The roster, too, became noticeably younger as the total of seven players didn’t return from last season and were replaced on by nine novices. VEF begins the season as the tournament’s dark horse.

The Leader
Mareks Mejeris. Riga’s big man had an impressive run late in the VTB United League’s regular season, and then later helped his team to become champions of Latvia, while collecting Play-offs MVP honors along the way. The 24-year old received an invitation to the National team soon after and participated in his third career EuroBasket. This season he will be looking to make the next step.

The Addition
Francisco Cruz. A player from Mexico stands out among his peers. At 25 years, Paco had played a number of games for his National team and has a vast experience in international competition. He possesses nice size and is a reliable scorer both inside and outside, but what sets him apart is his cool demeanour. He should become one of the team’s leaders.

The Quote
Carlos Frade. VEF’s head coach.
I’m happy to be a part of a team like VEF. Riga and Latvia have very rich basketball tradition and it’s an honor for me to work here. VEF is a well-known club in Europe and a respectable organization. Besides their nice brand this team possesses a fine selection of young talented players. I can’t wait to work with Latvian players, help them progress and improve the level of basketball here.

Kalev (Estonia)

Last season: 9th place (13W-17L)

The Expectations
Kalev’s roster underwent a few noticeable changes. A number of young prospects came to Tallinn along with some of the names that have been around for a while. Estonian number one team again showed the ability to use resources and resiliency in the offseason. In 2015/16 Kalev hopes to reach the Play-offs.

The Leader
Rolands Freimanis. Freimanis averaged 18.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 1.2 apg in 11 games last year. Strong play allowed him to break into UNICS’ regular rotation, but he wasn’t able to remain there for long. This offseason Rolands returned to Tallinn to lead this team and once again become the fan favorite and a highlight waiting to happen.

The Addition
Josh Boone. Kalev has one of the modest budgets in the VTB United League, which usually limits team’s options on the transfer market. This also means that team’s management has to take its share of gambles on free agents. Signing of Scott Machado last year worked out very well for the Baltic team, and now they are trying to breathe a new life into another former NBA player. Josh’s resume is impressive. He won NCAA title with the UConn Huskies and was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft by the Nets. Since leaving the NBA Josh’s basketball journey included stops in China, D-League, Philippines and Bahrein. Boone is now poised to make his debut in one of the strongest leagues on the continent.

The Quote
Alar Varrak. Kalev’s head coach.
- Our roster changed almost in half, so we have to start everything from scratch and try and develop a team that will play up-tempo basketball. Our goals are simple – go out and play well, and try and give our fans something to cheer about. Even though I think the race to the Play-off will be harder this year than the last, we’ll continue fighting till the very end.

Bisons (Finland)


Last season: 13th place (9W-21L)

The Expectations
Another League team that has a completely new roster to work with, top five of Bisons’ scorers from last year are playing elsewhere this season. Names of their replacements are unknown to the general public. Nonetheless, the Bisons basketball squad is full of optimism. Easy going Gibson is still an advocate of fast-paced, aggressive style of play, which is a good thing considering there is a lack of size on the team’s frontline. A team from Loimaa will put out on the floor an evenly shaped roster with a deep bench, and what they lack in star power the team is hoping to make up in their numbers and the level of effort. Gibson’s team is fully capable of repeating their colorful season from a year ago.

The Leader
Justin Jackson. As we’ve mentioned earlier, Bisons parted ways with their front-runners from last year, bringing in a total of nine newcomers. Their head coach claims to have an even roster comprised of 15 fine basketballers at his disposal. In other words, it’s hard to pick someone out from that group, but we’ll take a closer look at Justin Jackson. He hopes to play up to the level of expectations that are always connected to a player who came from the United States. This University of Cincinnati graduate and a 2014 ACC Defensive Player of the Year spent his professional rookie year in the D-League playing for Texas. Capable of playing both 3 and 4 Jackson is an excellent defender and is sure to bring the house down on the fast break.

The Addition 
Mikko Koivisto. Fittingly nicknamed La Bomba from Loimaa, Koivisto was the key piece on 2012 and 2013 Bisons championship teams. Famous for his long-distance shooting ability, he lives on the three point line and rarely misses if defense lags off him on the perimeter. Mikko has proven he’s capable of solely deciding the game’s outcome, which he’s done over and over for the Bisons and the Finish National team.

The Quote
Greg Gibson. Bisons’ head coach.

On the court I feel that our style has to be a little bit different. We don’t have the budget that everybody else has. We are gonna be fast, we are gonna be dynamic. We don’t have size but we can be very quick and that’s one thing that we’ll carry over from last year.We’ve got a deeper roster which will allow us to protect certain guys from time to time so that our players do not have to play so many minutes. I am very excited that we’ve got 12 - 13 - 14 guys that can contribute at any night and with the schedule that we have it takes a deeper roster.