Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion visits Morabanc Andorra in EuroCup action on Wednesday night with the tip off slated for 21:00 Israel time. Andorra sits in 3rd place with a 5-3 record while Rishon is 1-7 having already been eliminated from Top 16 play in their first season in the EuroCup competition.
The General Manager of Andorra, Francesc Solana is very familiar with teams trying to build a European tradition after joining Andorra in 2010. The former ACB star who saw his jersey retired by Fuenlabrada in what he described as a basketball player’s greatest honor and one that he is extremely proud of, has been able to take the team he molded on an incredible journey to Spain’s top flight from the 3rd division while also advancing to the semifinals of the EuroCup last season.
“When I was a player in 1993-94 I spent a season with Andorra with my wife who is from the area. When I retired we moved back to Andorra for my wife’s business and I began with the club in 2010. Together with management we had a big idea that we wanted to once again take Andorra Basketball back to the ACB, but we didn’t know how many years it would take, however, that was the goal. Within a few years we made it back thanks to the help that the has given the club. We are very proud to have been able to do this.”
By the end of the 2012 season, Andorra moved up to the second division and two years later they were promoted to the ACB for the first time since the 1995-96 campaign. Once back in the ACB Solana used the first couple of seasons to study the layup and find the correct blueprint to succeed in one of the world’s strongest leagues, “It was very difficult to accomplish what we did. In order to improve you need funding and after our first two years back in the ACB we understood what it would take to be competitive. We saw what we would need to do in order to take the next step. Now we are very competitive and can compete with our budget. This year the ACB is much closer than in past seasons where we could win one game and move to 4th place and lose one and drop to 10th.”
After finishing in 14th place in the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons, Andorra broke through to the ACB playoffs where they competed for two years against Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively in the quarterfinals, taking both series to a decisive third game, “We want to be competitive every game whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs. When playing the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona in back to back years, we knew that if we could win it would have been amazing. We played great at home with the help of our great fans and we were able win a game in each series to take them to 3 games. We were even ahead in the other games but you need to have experienced players to be able to compete in these situations. As we play more playoff games we will be able to gain the experience needed to win the first round and see how far we can go.”
The 2017/18 season saw Andorra enter the EuroCup, the first time in over twenty years that the club competed in Europe when they featured in the 1995/96 Korac Cup. Last year Coach Ibon Navarro navigated his squad all the way to the semifinals where they came very close to going to the finals, “Last year was our first time in Top 16 and we played great. We then played ASVEL in the quarterfinals and had a lot of confidence as we advanced to the semifinals where we tipped off against Alba Berlin who are now playing in the Euroleague. We had a couple of injuries and lost but we are continuing to make steps in continental play as well. Last year was a very important step for us.”
As the team continues to improve and come within a hair of the Euroleague, Solana talks about what it would mean for his side to play in the premier competition, “It’s a dream for our country and the club. I don’t know if it’s possible but the best chance for us to get to the Euroleague is via the EuroCup as the ACB is very difficult. However, we still need more European experience, more money and more sponsors to reach that height. Playing in the Euroleague would be a huge step. In fact, we have a huge ACB game this weekend against Tenerife and then the next week at Real Madrid. The games we play in the ACB are the same difficulty as to what Euroleague teams have to face week in and week out. We have two of those types of games every single week.”
Is winning the Eurocup one of the club’s goals this season? “It’s very difficult to win the EuroCup and our objective is to compete to the end. There are huge teams in the competition including Lokomotiv Kuban, UNICS Kazan, Bologna. Who all want to win and have budgets of over 10 million Euros whereas our budget is just 4.5, less than half.”
Attracting players is always a challenge for most teams throughout the world and Andorra being quite a ways away from an airport is no exception. But Solana who has played with and against the likes of Walter Herrmann, Juan Carlos Navarro, Rudy Fernandez Pau and Marc Gasol has plenty to offer the basketball player of today, “We work a lot to attract the players and they know it’s an opportunity to play in the ACB with Andorra and that they also have the gift of being a part of the EuroCup, the second best continental competition. Another advantage that we have is that we are a family. The club is like a family in every sense of the word. We are all close at the club and the players are happy here.”