New season, new dreams. VTB-League.com has the inside scoop on the six coaches joining the League in 2017-18. Though three have prior experience in the League, for each of the six the 2017-18 season represents a new challenge. Three Greeks, a Latvian, an Italian and a Serb are banking on making the League better.
Andrea Mazzon (Avtodor)
Avtodor Saratov has never been afraid to work with unknown talent. The Volga club will open the 2017-18 campaign with Italian coach Andrea Mazzon in charge. There’s very little about the stylish coach on the internet, though he does have his own website, including the following statement:
“I love the game. I really do – whatever it takes. I can’t wait to teach the fundamentals of the game, to explore the concepts and movement that make basketball the greatest game ever. I can’t wait to hear the sound from the crowd after a victory, the sound of the ball bouncing and the sound of the fans that believes once again. Most of all, I can’t wait to bring twelve individuals into a circle before practice begins, to look in their eyes, and know we are a team.”
That’s almost all we know about Avtodor’s new boss. Saratov impressed in the preseason, winning most of its games, while employing the club’s signature up-tempo style. We can’t wait to see Mazzon & Co. in action on the court.
Dimitris Priftis (UNICS)
Yet another coach by the name of Dimitris has joined the VTB United League, this time with the surname of Priftis. Prior to Kazan, Priftis ran the show at Aris, where he won Greek League coach of the year in 2016. He’s also spent time as an assistant on the Greek national team, dating back to 2008.
Given UNICS underwent a complete roster makeover over the summer, Priftis is nearly an ideal fit. He’s never coached at this level before and will do everything he can to make his team click. With UNICS also competing in the Eurocup, both the players and the coach will be tested on ability as well as stamina. Can Priftis succeed outside of Greece on a bigger stage? It’s time to see how the Greek coach and his defense-first approach hold up.
Nikolajs Mazurs (Parma)
Nikolajs Mazurs coached at the youth level on the Latvian national team between 2011-14, before taking over VEF Riga in 2014. Four years ago, he was named Latvia’s top youth coach. League fans will also remember Mazurs from stints at Vita (the club secured its only win of the season under Mazurs), Avtodor and UNICS.
Following assistant roles in Saratov and Kazan, Mazurs was ready to run the show again and signed with Parma over the summer. Both the coach and the club are hungry for success and expectations are high after an unsatisfying debut season in the League.
During the preseason, Parma has looked sharp, advancing to Round 2 of FIBA Europe Cup qualifying. The club’s approach to free agency also impressed over the summer, making Parma a team to watch this season.
He’s got a winning reputation, thanks to a EuroLeague title with Olympiacos and a Final Four appearance at Lokomotiv-Kuban. But last season did not go as planned in Barcelona for the Greek coach. Now the question is whether or not Bartzokas was a victim of circumstances or if there should be greater cause for concern. Khimki fans are hoping for the former, especially with such a formidable roster assembled in Moscow Region.
The team started strong, defeating CSKA in the Gomelsky Cup to pick up a preseason trophy. Can Khimki prove a real threat to CSKA’s hegemony atop the League? We’ll find out. In any case, we know that Bartzokas in Russia is always entertaining. Smothering defense, an athletic, versatile roster and a superstar in Shved: Khimki is ready to win.
Zoran Lukic single-handedly made Nizhny Novgorod into a VTB United League club. Under his leadership, the team advanced to the League finals in 2014 and qualified for the EuroLeague. Now that he’s back, the roster looks eerily similar: promising young Russian talent coupled with several skilled foreign players. Nizhny has struggled in recent seasons, but the fans believe Lukic will be able to make the most of a challenging situation.
The Serb’s teams have always been dangerous and a threat to spring an upset. Don’t expect anything different in 2017-18.
Kostas Flevarakis (Astana)
Astana’s ex-coach earned a promotion, taking over PAOK in the summer, and the club responded by signing another Greek, Kostas Flevarakis. He began his career at PAOK in the late 1990s and has since coached at more than 10 clubs, along with five years in charge of the Swedish national team.
Flevarakis is an unknown quantity in the VTB United League, but won’t be for long as Astana opens League play with a home game against CSKA on October 8. Greek vs. Greek is always intriguing, especially at the beginning of the season when anything can happen.