BC Khimki Moscow Region may be making its Euroleague debut this season, but you wouldn't know it from looking at the team. A recent history peppered with success, a coaching great on the sidelines and a roster that is deep, talented and experienced are all indicators that Khimki's maiden Euroleague voyage could be one to remember.
Head coach Sergio Scariolo, who this summer led Spain to EuroBasket 2009 glory, is back after guiding Khimki to both the Eurocup title game and the Russian League finals last season. A number of Khimki's top performers from last season are also back, including all-around threat Kelly McCarty, inside force Timofey Mozgov and guard Vitaly Fridzon — three entertaining players whom Euroleague fans have never had the pleasure to watch before. But the Khimki lineup has been bolstered by the addition of some huge names, including former Euroleague champion Robertas Javtokas; guards Raul Lopez and Carlos Cabezas, who shared EuroBasket 2009 gold with Scariolo; young veteran forward Paulius Jankunas and scorer Keith Langford, another Euroleague newcomer. Also on the roster are several Russian talents — from veteran Sergey Toporov to promising Fedor Dmitriev — who could give Scariolo key minutes, too. Together, the Khimki cast promises — if the experienced players can help Scariolo get the Euroleague newcomers acclimated quickly — to make plenty of noise in the 2009-10 season!
The duo of Lopez and Cabezas gives Khimki lots of backcourt options. Most importantly it means that the club will always have an experienced point guard on the floor, though the two can certainly play together when Khimki needs extra ball movement against strong Euroleague defenses. Lopez brings all the skills of a natural playmaker and floor director who should not be left alone to shoot. Cabezas is a driver, a strong defender and a leader who makes things happen when the team needs him. Joining them at guard is Langford, a scorer with great shooting range and a strong move to the basket. Fridzon is starting his sixth season at Khimki. He complements the rest of the backcourt as an aggressive combo guard with strong all-around skills and a three-point shot that has blossomed in recent seasons. Toporov offers depth on the wings as an intelligent player with confidence in his ability to score, making him an ideal reserve. Small forward Victor Dubovitskiy, who grew up at the club, is a good three-point shooter, while young playmaker Viacheslav Zaytsev looks to gain experience for the future.
McCarty is a two-time continental trophy lifter — including the MVP of the ULEB Cup Final in 2004 with Hapoel Jerusalem — who is finally set for his Euroleague debut. The ultimate glue player, his knowledge of the game combined with his athleticism and experience helps McCarty rise to the occasion to make big plays for his team when needed. Jankunas, who leaves Lithuania for the first time, really came into his own last season when he led his lifelong club, Zalgiris, in scoring and ranked as the Euroleague's third-best rebounder in the regular season. Dmitriev is a versatile forward who can move the ball, defend and shoot well from the wings and corners. Javtokas, another former ULEB Cup Final MVP, brings real muscle to the paint. A true defensive intimidator, Javtokas was the Euroleague runner-up in blocked shots the last time he was a full-time starter. Mozgov may have been a late bloomer, but he became one of the most productive players in the Eurocup last season and proved that was no fluke with some dominating showings for the Russian national team at EuroBasket 2009. Scariolo will have his work cut out for him early in the season as he tries to build chemistry among a host of talented players from different backgrounds. When Khimki is ready, however, it will be not only to survive, but to challenge the best teams in Europe.