Who is UCAM Murcia: Profiling AEK’s BCL Final Four Opponents
AGONAsport’s Peter Katsiris profiles AEK’s foes in the semifinals of the FIBA Basketball Champions League…
AEK’s path to FIBA Champions League glory came in further focus this week after the Enosi were paired with UCAM Murcia in the second semifinal of the Champions League Final Four.
After a thrilling playoff run that saw AEK overcome Czech side CEZ Nymburk by one point and outlast France’s SIG Strasbourg in the quarterfinals, AEK now face Spanish opposition with a ticket to the club’s first European Final since the 1999/2000 season.
As AEK look to capture their first European title since winning the FIBA Saporta Cup during the 1999/2000 season, the Enosi will have the benefit – and the pressure – of getting the job done on home court.
In what has already been a memorable season for AEK after securing a Greek Cup triumph, AEK are now hungry for more success on the continental stage.
AEK’s turnaround has been quite impressive after seemingly hitting rock-bottom with the departure of Sotiris Manolopoulos earlier in the season. Fortunately for the club, Dragan Sakota’s takeover as manager has proved a success; however, those at the club will see the season as still a work in progress.
While Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz get most of the attention in Spain, Murcia are slowly becoming a team to watch; at least on the continental stage.
Nicknamed Universitarios, Murcia are yet to make a splash on the domestic scene as the club’s history features struggles with relegation and promotion since being founded under the name Agrupacion Deportiva Juver in 1985.
Last season marked the first time the club qualified for a European competition as Murcia competed in the 7DAYS EuroCup. After slight changes to the tournament due to the rift between FIBA and the EuroLeague – the governing body of the 7DAYS EuroCup – Murcia managed to progress from a group containing many notable sides including current EuroLeague side Unicaja Malaga and future EuroLeague participants Bayern Munich.
Murcia’s campaign, however, would come to an end in the Top 16 as the Spanish side finished bottom in the second group stage behind Russia’s Lokomotiv Kuban and Spanish outfits Herbalife Gran Canaria and Montakit Fuenlabrada.
Considering Murcia have made history already this season by reaching their first ever Final Four of a European competition, the Spanish side can be considered as a bit of a dark horse as the FIBA Champions League shifts to Athens.
Ibon Navarro is in his first season as Murcia head coach after he replaced former Greece National Team head coach Fotis Katsikaris over the summer.
Having plenty of success as an assistant coach with the likes of TAU Ceramica/Caja Laboral (now known as Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz) and Valencia Basket, Navarro has struggled to find success as the lead man in charge.
Aside from a short stint as a university coach, Navarro spent most of his managerial career as an assistant until taking the head coaching job at Baskonia as a caretaker after the team parted ways with Sergio Scariolo in November 2014.
Despite staying on at the club through to the end of the 2015 season, Navarro left Baskonia to take up the position as head coach at Basquet Manresa. Navarro would stay with the club for two seasons but wouldn’t see out his three-year contract after the club was relegated to the second division of Spanish basketball last season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The versatile Ovie Soko is the main man to watch on Murcia’s roster as he has impressed throughout his side’s FIBA Champions League campaign. The 6-foot 7 British big man averages the most minutes on the team, while also leading the team in scoring with 12.9 points-per-game.
Playmaker Clevin Hannah averages 12 points-per-game as the team’s second leading scorer, but the American point guard does most of his damage running the Murcia offense as he leads the team with an average of 4.1 assists-per-game.
SEASON RECAP SO FAR
After a summer of changes at the Palacio de Deportes, Murcia have rebounded well in the inaugural season under Navarro’s management.
Much like AEK’s road to the Final Four, Murcia’s European voyage has been a bit of a rollercoaster from an uneasy group stage to a nerve-racking playoff run thus far. The Spaniards featured in Group A during the group stage, alongside fellow finalists AS Monaco. A loss to Juventus Utena on the final day of the group stage didn’t derail Murcia’s bid for the knockout round despite finishing level on points with Dinamo Sassari for fourth place in the group standings.
An all-Spanish tie against Iberostar Tenerife – last year’s FIBA Champions League winners – saw Murcia come-from-behind to capture the second leg 83-72 en route to a six-point aggregate win in the Round of 16.
In the Quarterfinals, Murcia thrashed Pinar Kasiyaka 160-137 on aggregate to reach their first-ever Final Four of any European competition – a feat the Universitarios will look to improve on in Athens.
Despite their success on the continent, Murcia’s domestic campaign hasn’t gone quite as smoothly with the club currently occupying the final playoff spot with a 15-13 record through 28 rounds of action in Spain’s Liga ACB.
PRIOR HISTORY VERSUS GREEK CLUBS
Participating in just their second European campaign, Murcia have yet to encounter Greek opposition. The closest the Spanish side have come to encountering a Greek club was in last year’s 7DAYS EuroCup which originally featured AEK until the aftermath of the FIBA-EuroLeague dispute prompted AEK to transfer to the FIBA Champions League.