Road to the Finals, Darussafaka Istanbul

In its return to the competition after a dozen years away, Darussafaka Istanbul is in the process of re-writing the club's history books. Not only have Coach David Blatt and Regular Season and Semifinals MVP Scottie Wilbekin led Darussafaka to its first 7DAYS EuroCup Finals, but to the club's very first final in any European competition. Moreover, Darussafaka is a step away from ending a more than half-century-long wait to lift a major trophy, its first since defending the Turkish League championship back in 1962. The club is breaking new ground as are the players since this is the first finals appearance in this competition for every single one of them. However, that so-called inexperience has not shown so far in any game or any stage of the season. That’s in great part due to the experience and the winning habits of Coach Blatt. Darussafaka enters the championship series on a four-game winning streak and with a 17-3 record, which is second best for the current campaign only behind its finals opponent, unbeaten Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar.

Darussafaka seemed to show no early jitters in its return to the EuroCup as it opened the season with six consecutive wins, though the first three of them came in come-from-behind fashion. Darussafaka was down double-digits in the first quarter of the season opener at Levallois Metropolitans only to really behind its defense to a 64-69 road win. It trailed by double-digits in the third quarter in its Round 2 home-opener against Cedevita Zagreb too, but edged the visitors 85-83 behind 23 points from Wilbekin and 20 from JaJuan Johnson. A week later, UNICS Kazan led for the majority of the first 35 minutes, but a strong finish from Coach Blatt's charges begat a 78-69 victory. The team went on to win three more contests before dropping its first, with Wilbekin sidelined, in Round 7 after overtime at Cedevita. Wilbekin returned and Darussafaka bounced right back in Round 8, edging UNICS on the road 75-79 and, in the process, clinching first place in Group A. Wilbekin was named Regular Season MVP for posting 19.0 points and 5.1 assists per contest and Darussafaka’s defense put everyone on notice, allowing the second-fewest points per game (72.9) during the first 10 games.

If there were still any doubters after the first stage of the competition, Darussafaka showed right from the start of the Top 16 that the regular season was no fluke, opening its Group E journey with a 65-84 drubbing of a city-rival Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul. With Wilbekin unable to play, three players had double-doubles in that game. Johnson had a stellar performance with 28 points and 12 rebound, Howard Sant-Roos collected 15 points and 10 boards, and Micheal Eric posted 11 points and 10 rebounds. Wilbekin returned the very next week and scored 20 points and Sant-Roos dished 10 assists as Darussafaka handled Herbalife Gran Canaria 88-70. Three wins by double-digit margins followed, two against ALBA Berlin and another against Galatasaray, which saw Darussafaka clinch first place in the standings and home-court advantage for the quarterfinals. Darussafaka did not allow more than 70 points in any of the first five games and despite losing its Top 16 finale at Gran Canaria, its defense finished second in the Top 16 in points allowed (68.7 ppg.), three-point shooting percentages (27.9%), three-pointers made (5.7 3FG) and forced turnovers (16.3 per game).

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30.03.2018