Tsmoki spreads its wings

Basketball returns to Belarus, with VTB United League at Minsk-Arena in October (following two year tradition)
By Dmitry Baranovsky

The tournament is unique and ambitiously expands its geography with each year. This season, it features two dozen clubs from the CIS, Baltic and European states, while the winner will ensure itself a ticket to Europe’s major club tournament: the Euroleague.

The level of play is very high, with participation becoming more prestigious. Belarus’ champion has been among the top squads for three years, although Minsk-2006 club has been disappointed in its performance. It is now changing its name, line-up and image, being known as Tsmoki-Minsk and with a desire to reach the play-offs. 

Headed by Andrey Krivonos, it kicked off with a much anticipated match against Enisey Krasnoyarsk. Last season, the team was the only one the Minskers managed to beat so they hoped to claim victory. However, only several members from last year’s line-up are at Andrey Krivonos’ disposal, so the coach has had to start almost from scratch. The core of the team comprises basketballers from the national squad — which recently took part in the European Championship (under the guidance of Mr. Krivonos). Denis Korshuk, Pavel Ulyianko and Alexander Pustogvar have joined the squad, in addition to several legionaries. Experienced players, such as John Edwards (three seasons in the NHL), are joining recent graduates of American universities who are keen to begin their career with European clubs.

The ‘cocktail’ is promising but the coach is yet to inspire true team work; Tsmoki lost to Enisey, who took a huge 20 point lead by the first break. The Minskers looked better on their return to the court, creating a few spectacular moments, but failed to make up for lost time.

After the match, Mr. Krivonos noted that the championship’s start had turned out to be unexpected, not only for fans. However, he stressed, “The team has around 70-80 percent new players, so it’s difficult for them to play coherently straight away; the newcomers need to be introduced into the team system. This was one of the factors making the first half of the game frustrating. Players lacked understanding and nobody tends to demonstrate extraordinary play on joining a new team. Meanwhile, our rivals had Jason Rich, who easily outmanoeuvred us; he claimed 27 points and we were unable to restrain him. However, we have a promising team; we’ll work from its strengths and vary our line-up…”

A few days later, the Minsk Dragons (as the new name is translated) faced Nizhny Novgorod with similar disappointment. Mr. Krivonos continues to assert that it will take time for the team to find its feet.
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