Umana Reyer Venezia: a closer look
MIES, Switzerland (Basketball Champions League) - The draw is complete, the venue is set and nerves are settled, in the calm, before the inaugural season of the Basketball Champions League, reaches the Final Four stage, in Tenerife on the 28th of April. 40 teams started the group stages, now only 4 remain. As Iberostar Tenerife, AS Monaco, Banvit and Umana Reyer Venezia, finish their respective, domestic league seasons and begin their final preparations for the showdown in sunny Tenerife, let’s take a deeper dive into what makes each team tick, how they have survived so far and why they can hope to be the first ever champions on the 30th of April.
Walter De Raffaele, the Head Coach of Umana Reyer Venezia guided his team in the last 32 of the Eurocup last season and to the QF of the Coppa Italia this season. Reaching this stage of Basketball Champions League, could arguably be considered a success already, especially considering they have outlasted the likes of Besiktas and AEK. De Raffaele’s men are scrappers though and should not be discounted, by any stretch. With an average age of 26 they have good balance of experienced veterans and hungry athletes in their prime. An average height of 6’5”, gives them line up flexibility but with their tallest man at 6’10” and 2 centre’s listed at 6’9, Reyer are not the tallest team left in the Final Four’s.
Statistically, Venezia are not outstanding either. Of the 4 teams left, they have the least efficient offense, with an Offensive Rating of 101.6, which is also below the league average and they have the second worst Defensive Rating at 100.04. They are however, here for a reason and a lot of their strengths are hard to measure in a box score.
It doesn’t take a long look at the team’s statistical leaders, to see that Canadian, Melvin Ejim is huge for the Italian club. At 6’7” and 220lbs, Ejim is a bear on both ends of the floor. A career 40% shooter from 3, he can catch and shoot, attack off the dribble and also post up. On the defensive end, he uses his frame to bang against opponents’ bigs and his long arms to get in passing lanes and disrupt shots.
Marquez Haynes starts at PG and carries the bulk of the load when it comes to creating shots for his team. Tyrus McGee is the other starting guard and he also has the ability to get by his man to create an advantage but it’s on D, where McGee really brings value. Hrvoje Peric, is a crafty interior scorer and Michael Bramos, the veteran Greek wing, knows how to take over and win games.
Defensive Activity (Pack Hunting 1)
Without a wealth of shot blocking, Reyer Venezia, do struggle to lower their opponents’ shooting % in the paint. Their perimeter defence, however, can be devastating. Venezia have the knack of turning the intensity up and going on runs at the right time, ignited by their defence.
Tyrus McGee is the leader of the perimeter, defensive unit and these 3 clips show what he’s all about. In the first 2 clips, he uses small, quick steps and clever positioning to eat the space and cramp his opponent for room. Then long arms extend out to poke the ball away.
This final clip shows McGee, doing what very few others have been able to do, by staying in front of J’Covan Brown and forcing a travelling violation. McGee anticipates the ball screen and fights over it by hopping forward towards his man, then uses his quick feet to cut off the driving lane.
Venezia are experts at reading their opponents eyes to jump passing lanes and finding blind spots to take advantage of their extremely active hands. They are clearly coached to hunt in packs and they do it well. In the first clip here, Bramos makes up 20 feet after reading Green’s eyes and intercepts a sloppy pass in transition. In the 2nd clip, Ejim sees the back of Skele’s head as he dribbles past, so ducks in and pokes the ball away to Ariel Filloy. The final clip is all Melvin Ejim!.. Ejim reads the passers eyes, uses his athleticism to steal the lob, then channels the spirit of Charles Barkley as he busts out in transition and throws down.
Offensive Rebounding (Pack Hunting 1)
Venezia adjust their numbers on the offensive glass, depending on their opponent. Against a faster, less physical opponent in Ventspils, they smashed the glass with 3 and sometimes 4 men but against a more physical, Pinar Karsiyaka team, they only went with 2. Against any team rebounding is always a team effort for Reyer. Venezia don’t try to pull contested rebounds with 2 hands. Instead they position a teammate close by in space and try to reach with 1 hand to tip the ball to the open man.
This focus on hunting in packs has paid off in key moments for Coach De Raffaele. Here Bramos catches his man ball watching and McGee distracts anyone else with the ability to box out and Bramos gets the game winning, put back in the first knockout round. A huge, hustle play!
Hustle and Mental Toughness
Coach De Raffaele has instilled an underdogs’, never say die mentality and a stubborn focus on the next play. These things don’t show up in a box score but they win games. In the first clip here, Bramos covers 30 feet to save a ball going out of bounds, that he had no right to get and he tips the ball to a team mate…Clear crossover from the focus on rebounding in packs. The next two clips are excellent examples of letting go of the mistake immediately and recovering the situation.
Go To Offense
The way Venezia use their hands to hustle and play defence, is something to watch for sure but it’s not all grit and grind. Venezia are inconsistent offensively but when they execute on offense, they can flow with the best teams in the Basketball Champions league.
Coach De Raffaele has put together an offense out of simple and functional, Flex Screens (sequence 1) and Staggered Pin Downs to get shooters open and defenders moving before entering Pick and Roll actions (sequence 2). Their most fluent, player and ball movement comes from their updated iteration of the Shuffle, with back screens and big’s handling the ball on the perimeter, leaving space to attack the paint.
This clip shows the ceiling, that Reyer Venezia are capable, of playing to and the kind of run they consistently go on, at crunch time. In 2 consecutive possessions of the 4th Q, Filloy calls the same set. In the first possession, the gravity of Ejim collapses the defence and the ball moves quickly from hand to hand and Filloy buries the 3. The next possession and the defence reacts, leaving room for Ejim to slip the screen and get the dunk. A 2 point aggregate lead, converts into game changing 7 point lead, in 2 possessions
Final Four Match Up
Few people across Europe were predicting Tenerife to have the kind of season they are having at the start of the year. Dominating in the Spanish ACB and statistically the best team in the Basketball Champions League, Tenerife are hosting the Final Four’s and the hot favourites. Psychologically this may well suit the scrappy, underdog nature of Umana Reyer Venezia. The key battles will most likely be centred around Reyer handling Tenerife’s big men, Vasquez and Bogris and also the battle between Canadians, Melvin Ejim and Aaron Doornekamp.
Fact to Watch for:
Every time Umana Reyer Venezia have taken the lead, in the 4th Q of the Basketball Champions League, they have gone on to win the game.
Tenerife have won their own fair share of close games, so look out for this one to be a thriller if things are close in the 4th!