Chicago Bulls

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 $8-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 Cerámica, Olympiacos, Prokom Trefl Sopot, Olimpija Ljubljana, Žalgiris 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 $10-12 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 doesn’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 Málaga, 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 successful Euroleague season to reach the second round.

UNICAJA is one of the 4 representatives of Europe’s best national league. The club took everyone by surprised to reach the Final Four last season. The team kept most of its players, Jiri Welsh (small forward) a 27-year old player with 6.7 point per game average during his NBA carrier, Jimenez (small forward) very experienced European player, winner of the World Championship 2006 gold medal with Spain, Haislip (center) the 13th pick of the NBA draft 2002.

Unicaja could easily ‘sneak in’ into the Final Four this year as well, they finished last seasons’ first round with a modest 7-7 record and progressed to the quarterfinals being better placed than mid-sized Euroleague clubs Benneton and Aris, in the quarterfinals Unicaja defeated Barcelona 2-1 overall with the 3rd game playing on home-court.

Unicaja players are mentally strong and able to keep concentration on needed level in decisive moments of the game. Unicaja may also be the team who could be swept off by a large margin of 20-or-so points difference playing against top Euro clubs such as CSKA or Madrid, and easily lose away games at lower ranked good home-court clubs where passionate crowd boost home-teams performance as it is with Efes in Istanbul and Aris in Thessaloniki.

MACCABI had its recent glory days by winning consecutive titles in 2004 (defeated Skipper Bologna by a margin of 44 points in the final game) and 2005 (TAU Ceramica by 12 points) and losing in the finals 2006. Maccabi dynasty ended in the summer 2006 when Anthony Parker and Maceo Baston left the club to join the NBA’s Toronto Raptors. Coach Pinhas Gershon also left the club.

Last year the club had a modest 8-6 result during the regular season and were relegated in the quarterfinals by CSKA, the series ended 2-1 with CSKA winning two games by a margin of 22 and 21 points. Maccabi’s club budget among the highest in Europe at the start of the 3rd millennium stagnated while in the last 2-3 years the budgets of several other European teams drastically heighten.

Maccabi entered 2007/08 season with several changes to the team. Key players from the last season all-around player Vujcic (center), Sharp (shooting guard) and Bynem (point guard) remain being the team’s core. Highly talented Eliyahu (power forward) is expected to be a major factor in the team’s playing.

Maccabi lost Jasaitis (small forward, joined TAU). New additions on the team include experienced European player David Bluthenthal (small forward, 16 points per Euroleague game last season with Fortitudo), Marcus Fizer (forward) who signed a two-year ($900.000 per year) contract was the fourth pick of the 2000 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls. Batista (forward/center), waived by the Boston Celtics, joined the team a few days before the start of Eurolegue season.

Maccabi is covered on all positions, the crowd at Nokia Arena (one of the bigger venues in Euroleague) will be loud as always. Maccabi is not the title contender as it may take a season for the new-comers to adapt to the team. With club’s supporters’ constant high expectations, Maccabi will fight hard to reach beyond the second round.

EFES PILSEN has got the imperative of reaching beyond the first round being probably the most popular basketball club in Turkey, country with 70 million citizens where basketball has its place. Coach David Blatt won the European Championship 2007 with Russia and is considered one of the best, if not the best, coaches in Europe at the moment.

The team consists of all domestic players with no big names plus 5 American players without notable NBA career. Efes Pilsen games will have publicity, the crowd will cheer for the team passionately, the team will hope to equal last season’s success when they reached the second round with 8-6 record during regular season.

ARIS THESSALONIKI, as all basketball clubs in Greece, lives in the shadows of PAO and Olympiacos. Aris’ supporters, together with Partizan crowd in Belgrade, are recognized as the loudest crowd in Europe. Their home-ground, Alexandreio Melathron with 4,800 seats capacity, is not too big but each spectator is actively involved in cheering for the team, no team regardless of its quality can claim secured win in Thessaloniki.

Domestic players with the team are not of the same glory as those playing in PAO and Olympiacos, American players did not have notable careers in the NBA, two other foreign acquisitions include Lithuanian Serapinas (small forward) and the biggest star on the team, experienced Euroleague and former NBA player with limited playing experience, Finn Mottola (center).

CIBONA ZAGREB, may be one of the teams with the least of ambitions, imperatives and means to reach the second round. There may not be too many spectators involved at the 5,400 capacity arena if the giants of European basketball do not guest in the City. Their best player Kus left the club past summer, no big names were added on the team that ended last year Euroleague season placed 7th in the group of 8 teams. Cibona will be targeting the group’s 5th or 6th place in order to reach the second round.

LE MANS is one of the 2 French teams in this year’s Euroleague, country that did not see its club posting big results in Euroleague in recent years. Last season Le Mans finished as the 7th team in group and did not progress into the second round. There are no big names on the team. Le Mans, along with Cibona, has most likely the least of chances to make it into the second round.

LIETUVOS RYTAS are one of the 2 Lithuanian teams, rather small country (3.5 million) to give two Euroleague teams. Lietuvos lives in the shadows of Zalgiris, the famous Euroleague club. Their home-ground Siemens Arena with the capacity of 11,000 built in 2004, is one the most modern and biggest Arenas in Euroleague. Club qualified for the Eurolegue by reaching the ULEB cup final.

There are no major, experienced Euroleague players on the team, their best player from last year Rush left the club. Lietuvos will be targeting the second round in the group where most teams are of similar quality.

ARMANI J. MILANO is coming from the Italian Seria A that is considered one of Europe’s top 2 national leagues. The team is a mixture of domestic players, among them the most prominent is national team player Bulleri (point guard), several players are younger than 20 years of age, American players that did not have notable NBA careers. Coach Mavrevski will be gaining his Euroleague experience. Armani Milano will be looking to secure a place to the next round by being among top 5 or 6 teams in the weakest of 3 Euroleague groups.

Group C (Panathinaikos, Barcelona, Partizan Belgrade, Lottomatica Roma, Fenerbahce Ulker, Real Madrid, Brose Baskets, Roanne):

Group features two teams contenders for the Euroleague title from the past several seasons, defending champion Panathinaikos and Barcelona, plus always strong Real Madrid who is to host this year’s Final Four. The group also features probably the weakest team in the Euroleague, Brose Basket.

PANATHINAIKOS, defending Euroleague champions, formed even stronger team than the one from last season, club’s ambitions are best described in the words of head-coach Zeljko Obradovic: ‘Our goal is to repeat the last season’s triumph’. Club’s budget is among the highest in Europe.

Together with CSKA, PAO is as close to the quality of an NBA team as one European club is at the moment. Euroleague 2006/07 coach of the year Obradovic, at the age of 48 already won several Euroleague titles, Gold medal in World Championship, European Championship, Olympic silver, and is Euroleague 2006/07 coach of the year.

The team features Diamantidis (point guard), Euroleague’s defensive player of the year 2005, 2006, 2007, Euroleague Final Four MVP 2007, together with Spanoulis, Becirevic and Vujanic, PAO formed what many consider is the best back-court in the world outside the NBA. Batiste (center/power-forward) is Euroleague 2006/07 import player of the year. Jasikevicius (point guard), Eurolegue Final Four 2005 MVP, was brought from the NBA’s Golden State Warriors in the deal worth over $11 million for a two-year contract.

PAO may express weakness under the basket. Center Tomasevic is 34 years of age, recent years injury problems made him not produce his maximum, center Zizic never posted big numbers in Euroleague coming in the games as PAO’s substitute. All players playing close to the basket are relatively modest in height, Batiste 207cm, Tomasevic 208, Zizic 207, there’s no classical center on the team. PAO will play team defense on tall players over 2.10 who dominate the basket, their inability to do as so may relegate them out from the competition as soon as the knock-out rounds begin.

BARCELONA as a model basketball organization and major factor in European basketball for decades shoots high as always. The team does not feature super-stars or dominant players on their positions, the team is covered on all positions with quality, experienced players, coach Ivanovic is known for his teams to play tough defense and keep high tempo of the game throughout 40 minutes.

The team includes Bazile (shooting guard), highly experienced Euroleague and Italian national team player, Sanchez (shooting guard), winner of the 2004 Olympics gold medal with Argentina, Marconato (center), winner of the 2004 Olympics silver medal with Italy, Vaskuez (center), 11th pick in the 2005 NBA draft, Ilyasova (power-forward), one of the biggest talents of European basketball, former NBA player 216cm center Kasun and several other experienced Euroleague players.

Barcelona saw one of its top-players, guard Navarro, leaving the club past summer to join the Memphis Grizzlies. Barcelona is among the favorites to win Euroleague title with the Final Four taking place on Spanish soil, though they do not feel the pressure of imperative to reach the Final Four like CSKA or PAO.

REAL MADRID is the most successful club in European basketball history, always hungry for trophies. This year’s Final Four takes place in front of Real’s home-crowd making them one of the strong favorites to win the title. After a disappointing 2005/06 season when the club did not qualified for the Euroleague, in 2006/07 season Real won the Spanish league title, as well as the ULEB cup, first European trophy in 10 years.

Real’s squad did not change much from the last seasons. Bullock (shooting guard) and Smith (shooting guard), along with Spanish national team player Reyes (power-forward) are backed up with players such as former NBA, Spanish national team player Lopez (point guard), Turkish national team player Tunceri (point guard) and several other good players on both side of the field such as Hervelle (power-forward) and Mumbru (small-forward).

The team added one major acquisition, center Papadopolous, a 27 year old Greek national team player dominant figure under the basket, just what the team needed to stretch the game and make room for good 3-point shooters with Papadolopous most of the time being doubled by opponent’s defense. Real may lack in experienced to play crucial Euroleague games as they competed in the ULEB cup last season. If Real manages to reach the Final Four, once the games start in front of the passionate enthusiastic crowd, all eyes will be on Real to win the title on home ground.

PARTIZAN BELGRADE is one of the European teams to produce most future NBA players. Past summer 217cm center Kosta Perovic (center) was sent to Golden State. Last season’s team’s most important player Drobnjak (center) also left the club, their play under the basket is weakened, position they were strongest at. With one of the smallest budgets in Euroleague, no adequate player was found to fill in the gap. The team was completed with signing 226cm tall Vranes from Buducnost (Montenegro).

The team suffered another major blow when Cummings’ (point guard) moved to Maccabi. Other than bringing former NBA player Milt Palacio (shooting guard, 4.3 points per game in the NBA), no other significant signings were made.

The team finished regular seasons 2006/07 with the score 6-8 and qualified for the second round as the best 6th placed team from all groups, this year Partizan will hope to accomplish the same success and make it to the second round. Partizan’s crowd is considered one of the two loudest in Europe, 7,000 capacity Arena will be sold-out for most of the games and atmosphere heated.

CHORALE ROANNE made it to the Euroleague as French Champions, a league that did not produce teams to make major results in Europe for the past several seasons. Roanne’s home-court is rather small with 3,085 capacity, they are back in the top European competition after 47 years, kept the same team structure from last season with important new-comer to the team American Rush (guard), a 23 year old player with no NBA experience, it’s a bit of mystery how well the team will adjust and play in the Euroleague.

BROSE BASKET, a representative of the German basketball league, is without imperatives of making it to the second round. Last years German team participant in the Euroleague, Koln, finished competition as the bottom placed club. The team includes Okulaja (power-forward), a 32 year old German national team players, other players had no major accomplishments or no experience playing in the Euroleague.

LOTTOMATICA ROMA aims to become one of the top Euroleague clubs. Famous European player Bodiroga who retired past summer was assigned as the team’s general manager. The team hosts games in a 11,200 capacity arena, is financially solid and other than veteran Fucka has no well-known names on the team.

7 Italian players are accompanied with 3 American players with little or no NBA experience, and several internationals. Coming from the Italian league, they are expected to be better placed than representatives from France, Serbia and Germany, thus make it to the second round.

FENERBAHCE ULKER is the second team from Turkey in this year’s competition. The crowd in Turkey will give good support during home games, the team is expected to be among top 5 in the group and progress to the next round. Fener ‘s team includes several national team players, the Turkish basketball icon Kutluay (small guard), Turkchan (power forward) the MVP of Euroleague regular season 2001/02, American players Solomon (point guard), James White (power forward) and several other internationals.

Euroleague offers a year of exciting basketball, will strong favorites for the Euroleague title PAO, Olympiacos and CSKA fulfill the expectations, group of Spanish teams make it to the Final Four and lift the trophy on Spanish soil, are Unicaja and Maccabi capable to come out of the shadows of top 6 favorites and manage to hold the gold, what surprises other teams can make, who are the young talents to become new European and World basketball stars, season 2007/08 is to tell.

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