Euroleague Final Four Viewer's Guide
Athens is the center of European sport in May. Later this month, it will host the continent's biggest annual sporting event - soccer's Champions League final. This weekend, it will set the table by hosting one of the great annual events of the world's greatest sport - the Euroleague Final Four.
If you're a fan of well-played basketball, we highly recommend that you tune in or set the DVR to NBA TV this Friday and Sunday for live coverage of the championship event of the league which features the best basketball in the world outside the NBA.
(Among the many things I found amusing about the ridiculous assertions by some yay-hoo columnists that Florida could beat some NBA teams was the fact that an entire level of basketball between the NBA and the NCAA - i.e. the Euroleague - was completely ignored. Florida would not win *this* Final Four of seasoned teams.)
Here's the schedule for this weekend's event, which will be held in front of almost 20,000 at the Olympic Indoor Hall (OAKA) - home of both the 2004 Olympics and this weekend's favorite, Panathiniakos. Should be a wild atmosphere with the home team in the mix:
11:30 a.m. ET: CSKA Moscow vs. Unicaja Malaga
2:30 p.m. ET: Panathiniakos vs. Tau Ceramica
2:30 p.m. ET: Championship
Someone please interrupt Coach K on the set of his latest commercial shoot and let him know the TV schedule, so that he might have some clue about the opposing players and their strengths/weaknesses in Beijing! (I'm really not even kidding about this.)
Former MVPs of this event include a host of guys who've been significant NBA players - everyone from Sabonis and Kukoc to McAdoo and Dominique to guys shining in this year's playoffs like Ginobili (2001) and Anthony Parker (2004). (Put Parker on Team USA already! - he knows all these players inside and out)
Below are capsules for the four teams (thanks to Jay Aych for a ton of help on these). Go to Euroleague.net for more.
2006-07 Record: Euroleague (21-2), Russian SuperLeague (23-3)
-Defending Euroleague champs, in its fifth straight Final Four
-Demolished Clippers 94-75 and lost to Sixers 85-71 in October
-Won Euroleague record 18 straight games, and also Russian Cup
-Return with core of last year's champs and have an excellent chance to repeat
-Disciplined on both ends, under guidance of coach Ettore Mussina, whom both ESPN's Chris Broussard (Insider) and The Painted Area think could become the first European head coach in the NBA
-SportingBet.com odds: 6-4
Some notable players:
-Theo Papaloukas: Arguably the best player in Euroleague as a 6th man. MVP of Euro Final 4 in '06, Euro Championships (for Greece) in '05. Should draw crowd support, as the hero of the Greek national team. Devastated Team USA off the pick-and-roll in the Worlds. Controls games without scoring as a 6-7 playmaker and harassing defender. His one major flaw--not a good shooter. Led Euroleague in assists (5.4). All in all, a joy to watch.
-Trajan Langdon: Dukie sharpshooter leads team in scoring (13.4), including 42.9% accuracy from 3.
-David Vanterpool: 34-year-old American (St. Bonaventure) has made a career for himself in Europe; hampered by back injury and is doubtful; played great in last year's final; has a pretty good blog on Euroleague.net.
-J.R. Holden: Guard grew up in Pittsburgh and played at Bucknell, yet has dual U.S./Russian citizenship and plays for Russian national team. Wikipedia says that "On October 20, 2003, Holden became a Russian citizen by decree of President Vladimir Putin." Here's the story behind it - good read.
-David Andersen: 6-10 Australian was 2002 2nd round pick of the Hawks. Reliable outside shooter.
-Oscar Torres: Venezuelan - a former Rocket and Warrior - was signed midseason after Vanterpool's injury.
-Matjaz Smodis: Versatile Slovenian forward is 2nd-leading scorer (12.9). Keeping the Euro-mullet look alive.
2006-07 Record: Euroleague (13-10), Spanish ACB League (17-16)
-First appearance in Euro Final Four
-Serious longshot to win. Lack much size with Santiago injured.
-Former home of NBAers Jorge Garbajosa and Walter Herrmann. Both played for Unicaja last year.
-SportingBet.com odds: 20-1
Some notable players:
-Pepe Sanchez: Former Temple point guard is also longtime standout for the Argentine national team; hit last-second three-pointer to upset FC Barcelona in decisive game of Euroleague quarterfinals
-Daniel Santiago: Puerto Rican big man with NBA experience - the team's leading scorer - is out with a detached retina, a big loss.
-Marcus Brown: American from Murray St. is a longtime Euroleague standout; has played in Euro Final 4 for CSKA.
-Jiri Welsch: 2002 first-round pick from Czech Republic spent four years in NBA before coming to Spain this year.
-Carlos "Naranjas en mi" Cabezas, Carlos Jimenez, Berni Rodriguez: All contributed to Spain's 2006 World Championship gold.
-Florent Pietrus: Brother of Golden State's Mikael. Solid rebounder.
2006-07 Record: Euroleague (18-4), Greek League (24-2)
-Three-time Euroleague champions ('96, '00, '02)
-Won Greek Cup
-The "Greens" are odds-on favorite to win at home
-Powerful rebounding team. Very deep team. Multiple outside shooting threats. Team shoots 50% overall.
-Coach Zeljko Obradovic has won record five Euro titles
-SportingBet.com odds: 39-40
Some notable players:
-Dimitris Diamantidis: Greek known as Spiderman has won 3 straight Euroleague Best Defender awards and is one of Jay Aych's favorites; has improved outside shot. Legit NBA prospect.
-Mike Batiste: Former Arizona State player has been with Greens for four seasons; leads team in scoring in Euroleague play and is one of best rebounders in Europe.
-Tony Delk: Sharpshooter who won national title for Kentucky and once scored 50 in an NBA game averages just 18 mpg for this club.
-Ramunas Siskauskas: Stalwart on Lithuanian national team leads Euroleague in three-point shooting (50.6%).
-Milos Vujanic, Robertas Javtokas: Former Knicks, Spurs draft picks, respectively - legit NBA prospects - barely see action for this deep squad. Vujanic still recovering from knee injury.
-Sani Becirovic: Slovenian combo guard, a former Nuggets 2nd-rounder, is another sharpshooter.
-Also get contributions from other players from Greek national team who Coach K would only be able to identify by jersey number. Greeks D. Dikoudis & K. Tsartsaris (questionable due to injury) provide a physical inside presence alongside grizzled Serbian vet Dejan Tomasevic. Vlade Divac refers to 6-10 Tomasevic as a Serbian version of Charles Oakley--rugged rebounder, good passer, likes to mix it up, basically he would warrant the "One Tough Hombre" tag from Hubie. Dikoudis & Dejan only play about 15 mins. per, but they are highly productive in limited minutes: both guys average around 8 ppg & 4 rpg.
2006-07 Record: Euroleague (20-2), Spanish ACB League (25-8)
-In third consecutive Final Four, but searching for first title
-On a 10-game Euroleague winning streak, but face tough matchup on the road in Athens
-Also a deep, experienced ballclub
-Coach Bozidar Maljkovic has won four Euro crowns, including Panathinaikos' first in 1996
-SportingBet.com odds: 17-4
Some notable players:
-Luis Scola: The best big man in Europe; a fixture on the Argentine national team; 2002 Spurs draft pick has had buyout issues which have precluded a move to the NBA; 3rd in Euroleague scoring at 16.0 on 58% FG.
-Tiago Splitter: Brazilian center will be a first-round pick this year; solid defender whose offensive game has not progressed as hoped; averaged 11 and 6 on 58% FG.
-Igor Rakocevic: Lightning-quick Serbian led Euroleague in scoring at 16.9 in part due to improved outside shot (47.7% from three); also gets 1.5 steals per.
-Pablo Prigioni: Point guard on Argentine national team likes to play pick-and-roll with Scola; is 2nd in Euroleague with 5 assists per game and 1st with 2.5 steals per.
-Zoran Planinic: Went from Nets backup PG to Tau backup PG! Adds 4.1 assists per game.
-Fred House: Only American on Tau; 2002 NBDL Rookie of the Year; played at Southern Utah.
-Serkan Erdogan: Turk sharpshooter - 12 ppg on 45% from 3pt..
CSKA over Unicaja by a lot
Panathinaikos over Tau by a little
CSKA over Panathinaikos
Just feeling the upset b/c I think CSKA will win its semi in a walk, while the latter semi will be a dogfight.
For no particular reason, here's the dunk of the year in the Euroleague, by former Kansas State standout Jeremiah Massey: