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Watch: Basketball returns as Starlites face ‘new team’ Mellieha in Super Cup final

Starlites FIJO celebrate with the league trophy. Photo: Wally Galea

Maltese basketball returns after the summer break on Sunday as Division One champions Starlites FIJO face Knock-Out winners Mellieha Libertas in this year’s Super Cup final on Sunday at the Ta’ Qali Pavillion (tip-off: 4PM).

It should be an interesting curtain raiser to the new season as both sides will have the opportunity to give early debuts to various incoming players. While title holders Starlites have replaced their three US import players last season with Melvin Newbern Jr, Darius George, and Maltese/Australian Matt Attard, Mellieha have made various changes including their head coach, appointing Italian tactician Christian Narciso.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Narciso believes it was meant to be for him to join the side.

“Since the very beginning, we shared the same vision – Mellieha Libertas is a new growing club and the work of the previous seasons in the league has been proving that growth is our goal,” Narciso said.

“The team is new compared to last season with very good additions and we’re working a lot on the chemistry. We have a good mix of valid players.”

The Mellieha side made no less than five new signings, confirming Malta international David Bugeja this summer after a fantastic run of games with the Malta National team in the FIBA Small Countries Games. They added former Starlites man Robert Bonnici, Sam Zammit, and two foreign players in US forward Connor Zinaich and Nikola Jovanovic.

“I believe it’s a good mix that can do a great season together. Obviously, the addition of (David) Bugeja and (Robert) Bonnici – expecting him to be back in November – give us a bit more experience on the court. (Connor) Zinaich and (Nikola) Jovanovic are going to adapt to the Maltese competition and I am excited about the potential of this group,” Narciso explained.

“Obviously, we face last season’s champions, they’ve known each other for a long time and that puts them as the favourites. We worked well in these past weeks and I’m confident that my players are going to compete hard.”

Watch: Coach Ferrante praises Starlites’ commitment after title success

On the other hand, Starlites coach Paul Ferrante will be looking to restart his winning team’s engine for another season after an impressive streak that led to winning the title with an 11-1 regular season run and a clean sweep against Mellieha in the finals.

Asked about what he thinks about the team’s adjustments, Ferrante believes his side is not yet the finished product.

“We’ve made the best out of the past couple of weeks we had together as a team. We have two new imports this year, and as you know well, the import players in our league have a considerable impact on the game’s balance sheet,” he said.

“Unfortunately, Kurt Xuereb has been suffering from a lingering shoulder injury but overall, I am happy with the developments and commitment I am seeing on a day-to-day basis. If you ask me to rate our team at the moment, I would say we are presently at 70% of our maximum potential. But considering it is the first game of the season, I’m quite happy.

While Malta international Xuereb will be restricted to fewer minutes on court, Ferrante insists his side will be facing what he deems to be a ‘new team’ on the day.

“Our opponents lost two valuable imports and replaced (Nick) Vasovic with Bugeja and Mirco (Azzopardi) with Bonnici. I think the biggest change they had was the coach. So honestly, one does not know what to expect – we will be playing as if we are facing a new team,” Ferrante said.

“Basically, it will be a matter of who adjusts best on the court. We have a slightly deeper bench as I see it, but the game is a final, and as all finals, it will be decided on the day.”

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