Christmas in Greece – Basketball Throw
Image by Old Shoe Woman
Euroleague Basketball: Back and Stronger Than Ever
The new Euroleague season starts on October 22nd 2007 with the Final Four taking place in Madrid (Spain) May 02-04. 2008. For the first time in European basketball history, several teams were able to offer players -figure contracts making the Euroleague basketball a step-closer to the NBA level.
Euroleague is contested in four phases. In the first phase (regular season) 24 teams are divided into three groups of eight. At the end of the regular season 16 teams (first 5 teams from each group and the best 6th from all groups) progress into the second phase where four groups are contested in a double round-robin format.
The third phase (Quarterfinals) is the knockout round where best 2 teams from each group (first-placed team of one group against second-placed team of other group) square against each other. The Final Four 2008 in Madrid will feature the winners of the quarterfinal series.
GROUP A (CSKA Moscow, TAU CerÃ¡mica, Olympiacos, Prokom Trefl Sopot, Olimpija Ljubljana, Å½algiris Kaunas, Montepaschi Siena, La Fortezza Bologna):
The group includes 3 strong pretenders for the Final Four (CSKA, TAU, Olympiacos), also 2 favorites for the Euroleague title (CSKA, Olympiacos). The Italian clubs Montepaschi (Italian champion) and La Fortezza Bologna may not have the same ambitions but are favorites to clinch the remaining 2 spots in the group that lead to the next round.
CSKA MOSCOW, current Russian Superleague Champion, with one of the highest budgets in Europe is targeting the same goal they had for the past several years, to win the Euroleague. In 2002 CSKA signed Dusan Ivkovic, a coach with plenty of national team and club titles, hoping for CSKA to win its first Euroleague title.
Ivkovic stayed with the club until 2005 with no luck of reaching that goal. His successor Ettore Messina joined the club in 2006 and won the Euroleague in his first season. Last season CSKA lost to Panathinaikos in the Athens final by a close margin. Anything other than reaching the Final Four in Madrid would be a failure for CSKA’s Euroleague 2007/08 season.
Major players to leave the club past summer include Tomas Van den Spiegel, the 214cm center who left for Prokom (Poland), Oscar Torres who averaged 8.7 points/23 minutes per game, now signed with Fortitudo Bologna (Italy). David Vanterpool the 34 year old guard missed most of the last season due to injury problems and may or may not stay at CSKA.
The new-comers are Ramunas Siskauskas (small forward/shooting guard), one of Panathinaikos’ main players last season helping them to win the Euroleague and Greek championship titles, Marcus Goree (power forward/center) last seasons’ Benetton Treviso’s main player, Nikos Zisis (point guard/shooting guard) also coming from Treviso where he averaged 11 points/33 minutes per game.
The team includes Papaloukas (point guard), Euroleague 2006/07 player of the year, Euroleague 2006/07 guard of the year, J.R.Holden (point guard), established Euroleague player, play-maker for the Russian national team, and other highly experienced Euroleague players. CSKA’s team has been playing together for several years and has got what it takes to win the Title.
Coach Ettore Messina is known for his team’s strong performance in defensive playing. During Euroleague regular season 2006/07, through the course of 14 games, CSKA was the team with best defense allowing opponents to score 65 points per game. Messina asks for the best performance from each player during the entire 40mins of play regardless what the results is and what team CSKA plays against.
TAU CERAMICA as one of the big names in European basketball, representative of the Spanish ACB, is sure to offer quality, competitive games. This season TAU may not have the players of MVP award potential like Louis Scola (signed for the NBA’s Houston Rockets) was last season but there are plenty of great team players capable of making it into the Euroleague’s team of the week selection in any week. Rakocevic (point guard) is capable of scoring 30 points in Euroleague games, Splitter (center) can dominate playing close to the basket.
The team includes established Euroleague and National team players such as Jasaitis (small forward), Prigioni (30 year old point guard), winner of the Olympic gold medal in 2004 with Argentina. Adding players like Singleton (power forward) who had experience of playing in the NBA, the Italian League 2005 All-star game MVP, Planinic and McDonald, TAU will perform one of the strongest team plays in Euroleague, the thing needed to beat any team in decisive games.
OLYMPIACOS was one of the strong favorites to lift the trophy last seasons mainly due the fact that the Final Four was held in their home city Athens, Pinhas Gershon (won consecutive Euroleague titles while with Maccabi) was assigned for the coach and Macijauskas (guard) was brought from the NBA to be team’s key-player. Maciauskas missed the seasons due to injury problems and, in all, Olympiacos did not seem to have had the team needed to win the title.
All that changed this season, only ambitions stayed the same. Macijauskas is in the full swing and Olympiacos formed a powerful team with one of the biggest budgets in Europe, multi-million dollar contracts were signed with Tsakalidis (center) a new-comer from the NBA’s Houston Rockets, Lynn Greer (guard) from Milwaukee and Marc Jackson (forward/center) 2000/01 NBA All-rookie team member while playing for the Golden State with 8 points 4 rebounds per game during seven NBA seasons.
Detroit Pistons’ Chris Webber was offered a great -12 million tax-free contact to join the club this summer on two years but decided to stay in the NBA.
MONTEPASCHI’s notable players include Kaukenas (shooting guard) and Lavrinovic (center), both of them spent most of their Euro-games minutes playing in the ULEB cup and may not be the driving force needed to win games against top Euroleague teams.
Most of the time they will be double by opponents team defense and there’s not enough support in other Montepaschi’s players. Strong defensive teams like CSKA may allow Montepaschi to score no more than 65 points just by playing good defense on those two players.
LA FORTEZZA BOLOGNA, through history the giant of European basketball winning Euroleague titles in 1997 and 2001, is still recovering from the recent years downfall that saw them competing in the Italian second league. Bologna is expected to have a solid season, make it to the Euroleague next year through Italian championship and be among Euroleague title contenders in the upcoming seasons.
Bologna’s top players like Ciacig (center) and Garri (center) have been around for some time, they can make solid performances, good enough to beat teams of similar quality such as Montepaschi or Prokom, it needs stellar performance and an additional extra player on the squad that Bologna doesnâ€™t have on the team to beat higher ranked teams such as TAU or Olympiacos. 5 American players on the team are without notable NBA stats, mostly playing in the D-league.
This leaves PROKOM and ZALGIRIS competing with the Italian teams for the 4th and 5th place that lead to the next round. Polish basketball clubs did not have big Euro results in recent years, Prokom’s participation as a Euroleague team for consecutive years is a success for itself. During that time, Prokom twice made it to the Top 16, the success they will look to equal this season.
Current roster includes Travis Best (point guard), averaged 7.6 points and 3.5 assists per game in the NBA, Wolkowkyski (power forward/center), winner of the gold medal at the Olympics 2004 with Argentina, also the former NBA players (a year with Seattle and Boston), and the biggest summer signing Milan Gurovic (small forward), top scorer of the ULEB cup 2006/07.
ZALGIRIS is Euroleague title winner in 1999 living on its old glory at the moment, core of the team is made of domestic players, along with this summer’s biggest signing DeMarcus Brown, the 33 year old player with limited playing experience in the NBA and highly experienced in the Euroleague playing for top teams for over 7 seasons. Last season Zalgiris finished the regular season with 2-12 record, this season they hope to do better as a more experienced team.
OLIMPIJA does not offer the quality needed throughout 14 games of the regular season to reach the next round. Olimpija saw some of its best players leaving the club last season, the crowd at Olimpija’s home-ground Tivoli knows to be rather silent, if bigger Euroleague teams are not to guest the crowd is not a factor in home-teams performance. The city of Ljubljana does not seem to be too enthusiastic about its basketball club. Olimpija is likely to be the weakest team in the group.
Group B (Unicaja MÃ¡laga, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Efes Pilsen, Aris Thessaloniki, Cibona Zagreb, Le Mans, Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, Armani Jeans Milano):
The only group not to feature a team favorite for winning the Euroleague title. This makes the group be without a great gap in quality between the teams. Unicaja as the representative of Spanish ACB, Maccabi with huge results over the last several seasons are expected to be among top 5 in the group of 8. All other teams would consider it having a