Having “touched the hearts of the Monégasques,” as well as the French title last year, AS Monaco Basketball are now tasked with repeating the feat, which in the words of manager Sasa Obradovic will be “very hard.”
The Roca Team exceeded all expectations last season by winning the French title, the French Cup, and by reaching the Final Four in the Euroleague – a historic achievement for a team from the French league. However, for general manager Oleksiy Yefimov, their biggest achievement was that they “touched the hearts of the Monégasques.”
The Salle Gaston Médecin was filled throughout the season, and it will soon be again. The court itself has been redone for the upcoming season, which begins with an away trip to Limoges on Saturday. However, whilst the aesthetics at Monaco’s home court may be different, the roster will be largely recognisable.
Unlike in past years, which have seen wholesale squad overhauls, there was a greater deal of stability this year, with only Chima Moneke departing from the first team. Four players have arrived in Mam Jaiteh, Petr Cornelie, Terry Tarpey and of course, Kemba Walker.
The latter two were presented to the media on Wednesday. “I appreciate being here. I just want to play, to be on the court. What better city, better place to come to than Monaco? Everyone has been great, I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I’ll be on the court to help these guys as much as possible,” said Walker, the blockbuster signing of the French division this summer.
However, despite strengthening the squad this summer, the Roca Team are depleted heading into the new season. Players such as Donatas Motiejunas, who went deep into the World Cup, are still on leave, whilst injuries and a virus have ripped through the squad.
“Preparations were difficult for me and the staff,” admitted the Roca Team manager. It leaves coach Obradovic in an uncomfortable and uncertain position; not the ideal context to kick-off a French title defence. “It’ll be hard to repeat what we’ve achieved in the past two years,” began Obradovic.”
European basketball returns to the Principality in October
He continued, “We should work twice as hard, to be at a higher level to have a chance to repeat it. We have a group of people capable of doing big things, but doing so depends on a lot of different factors. We should all be ready for a big step. What we achieved last year was great, but our goals must be big, we need to dream big.”
Monaco can afford to “dream big.” They have the means, and the ambition to improve. “The feeling of the French title was sweet; I want that again,” said John Brown III. However, the Roca Team are now the team to beat, and everyone team that faces them will be looking to pull off a scalp. “We’ll have more eyes on us, more pressure,” admits John Brown III, who will once again hope to feature prominently.
Fans of the Roca Team will have to wait to welcome their players back to the Principality. The team start with two away games before welcoming Saint-Quentin in the Betclic Elite on 26th September. European basketball then makes its long-awaited return on 13th Ocotober, when Virtus Bologna play a visit to the Salle Gaston Médecin.
“The government, the Prince, and the population are behind them.”
Prince Albert II is one of the Roca Team’s most ardent fans, but it was a member of his government, Patrice Cellario, who was present to support the Principality’s basketball club on Wednesday.
The Roca Team has won the heart of the Monégasques. I want to salute the past results and encourage them for the coming season. We have to prove everything all over again. The government, the Prince, and the population are behind them,” said the Interior Minister, who added that the plans for a new, larger stadium for the Roca Team, are still being “studied and reflected.”
For the Roca Team, the new season gets underway with a mixed set of emotions. There is excitement, uncertainty, and above all expectation. “There is bigger pressure on our shoulders. However, these guys won’t hide from that,” said Yefimov, who is charged with the difficult task of steering Monaco to even greater heights.
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Photo by Luke Entwistle, Monaco Life