Euroleague Preview: Group A

Euroleague Preview: Group A
Nov 28, 2004, 12:03 am

by Luis Fernández


Estudiantes is one of the Spanish basketball clubs with more tradition and richer history comparatively. It was founded at Ramiro de Maetzu High School in Madrid, and somehow it still keeps the school flavour. Unlike other elite clubs, here the youngsters are given many opportunities and there's an emphasis on developing talent. Besides, there's a sense of continuity and compromise with the people around the club. Hardcore Spanish basketball fans usually reserve a place in their heart for this team, even if they cheer for others, because of what it represents (although it's true that it's looking more and more professional as time goes by). This is also reflected in the team's attendance, being the biggest in Europe last season amongst domestic league teams.

Result-wise, though, this club has suffered under the shadow of Real Madrid and F.C.Barcelona to the point of not winning even one single Spanish League title despite finishing 22 times among the 4 best teams of the season (12 of the last 16 season among them). Their success has come in the form of Spanish Cups, winning three of them (1963, 1992, 2000). In the European scene, the biggest achievement was to get to the 1991/92 Final Four. It was the first participation of a total of 5 in the elite European competition; with the last one being in the 2000/01 season.

The Team

Estudiantes is a team without big stars, but a collection of good hard-working players that are very well coached by Pepu Hernández. It's quite a balanced team, with defined roles for all of its players, starting with the distribution of the ball from the hands of Nacho Azofra (PG, 6-0, 35), continuing with perimeter scoring in Nikola Loncar (SG, 6-6, 32), defense and rebounding in Carlos Jimnez (SF, 6-9, 28) and offensive versatility in Andrae Patterson (PF, 6-9, 28), and ending with low post scoring in Rubn Garcs (C, 6-9, 31).

The bench completes nicely the picture with players capable of changing the dynamic of the game, such as Sergio Rodríguez (PG, 6-3, 18), a flashy player with a great offensive game, Hernán Jasen (SG/SF, 6-6, 26), a guy who brings an enormous amount of intensity to the court, or Iker Iturbe (PF, 6-6, 28), a player with a great three-point stroke. Indeed, Estudiantes fills the profile of many European clubs currently featuring perimeter-oriented power forwards.

There is one category that this team has been mastering for some years now, and which still dominates despite the loss of Felipe Reyes in the summer market. This is the offensive rebounding category, an obsession for the frontcourt of the team. It's the result of the intensity and the hard work this team puts in, especially players like Jimnez or Jasen. Without the luxury of possessing dominant players, they have to relay on team game and effort to remain competitive. And that's what you get when they play well: a bunch of guys wisely directed by Azofra, sharing the ball, looking for the open man, running the court if there's a chance and playing good defense.

In such a starless group, there's one player whose production is absolutely key to make this team really competitive: Nikola Loncar. He's a man capable of becoming an offensive go-to-guy, a finesse shooter who balances the streakiness of Nacho Azofra and the limited offensive contribution of Carlos Jimnez. If he's on, Estudiantes is capable of big achievements, like the playoff run this team enjoyed in the ACB league last year that left them on the verge of winning the league title.

But in spite of that success, this team is limited, and simply won't be able to compete against the top European teams, at least not to the point of winning it all. The lack of talent sets a heavy barrier on the European hopes of this crop of players. You can't beat the likes of Macabbi, CSKA or Montepaschi Siena day in and day out just with team effort and some standout performances.

There are some other clouds could jeopardize Estudiantes' performance. Starting with the point guard position, Nacho Azofra is a veteran player who can't play for the full-effort 40 minutes the game lasts. Besides, he's a little bit inconsistent, and to have a good replacement for him is important. It just so happens that his backup is Sergio Rodríguez, the last Spanish sensation, but a teenager who still has a lot to learn, especially on defense. The team has made a risky bet, structuring the roster with Sergio as the second point guard. It could come back to haunt them, but on the other hand, what might seem now like a weakness, can become a real strength if Sergio can adapt his game to this level of competition and to his new teammates. Very few teams in Europe feature a couple of playmakers with the distribution ability of Azofra and Sergio Rodríguez.

Besides, the size is another matter of concern, especially in the paint. The inside players are not taller than 6-9, and although in Europe size is not as important as in the NBA because of a shorter three-point line and zone defenses, it helps a lot. On the other hand, the 6 feet 9 inches of Carlos Jimnez playing at small forward help to compensate that lack up to a certain extent.

Another issue still unclear at this point of the year will be the locker room. Felipe Reyes was a much-appreciated member of this group, and his substitute, Rubn Garcs, seems far from receiving the same consideration. Besides, Nikola Loncar is angry with the team's front office because of a contract issue. Those details could affect the team spirit Estudiantes usually features, and which is so important for their success.

Draft Prospects

This season, Estudiantes is giving Sergio Rodríguez the chance of his life. It speaks volumes about Rodríguez and particularly his team for them to have so much trust in an unproven and young player to give him the first-PG-off-the-bench spot, especially considering that your starting PG is already 35 years old. The amount of responsibility he faces is enormous and almost unprecedented, and he will have to deal with it. His first duty will be to raise his defensive level enough to not become too much of a liability for his team. He will also need to earn the confidence of his teammates, because he's very young and plays in an unorthodox and very risky fashion, usually becoming the spotlight while on the court. But as big as a favour as Estudiantes is giving him, Sergio himself can give back a bigger one, because this kid is so talented that he could lead the team, with his incredible assists and high scoring capabilities, to reach a much higher level than he otherwise would have.

Carlos Suárez (SF, 6-7, 18), Sergio's mate on the European Junior all team, will likely fill a marginal role. He's the twelfth men on the roster, and he will have to wait for future seasons in order to receive playing time. But if he's needed, he could play and perform decently showing his good team defense, reliable perimeter stroke when he's open and rebounding abilities.

Important Players

Nacho Azofra is the leader of this team. The veteran point guard still plays with the same passion he had on his first game. When he's on, he's one of the best distributors in Europe, but he's not as consistent as would be desired, not in his game and especially not in his shooting. But he's one of those key players for the locker room.

The best offensive weapon on this team is Nikola Lonkar, a veteran Serbian shooter with smooth mechanics. He finished last season in great shape, leading his team all the way to the ACB League Finals. When he's on, he's very dangerous, because he's not only a great shooter, but also a player who understands the game very well and makes good decisions. The problem is that he's not always as consistent as would be desired. He isn't also the best defender around.

Carlos Jimnez is one of the best team defenders all over Europe. He's everywhere on the court, ready to help any teammate with his defensive assignment, grab rebounds on both ends of the floor, or appearing every time there's a loose ball around. He certainly lacks a great scoring instinct, but has nice skills to get points if necessary, both near and far from the basket. He's a steady player. You can always count on him.

The main reference of the team in the paint will be Rubn Garcs, a strong paint player who will add toughness, rebounding and much needed low post scoring for the team.


After three seasons without taking part in the Euroleague (in part because of a new system that takes into account multi-yearly achievements to qualify), the team and the fans are happy just being here. But considering the rivals in the A group, this team should qualify for the top-16 stage.


I think this team will make the top-16 round, but it will be really hard to get any further.


by Ognjen Vukovic


A former European champion and the current Croatian champion, Cibona VIP Zagreb was originally founded one year after World War II as BC Sloboda (which means freedom in Croatian). This name was very popular in what is today known as ex-Yugoslavia. However, the first domestic success – the winning of the National Cup in 1969 – and the first international success – the winning of the Radivoj Korac Cup in 1972 – were achieved under another name – Lokomotiva. At the end of 1975, the team changed its name from Lokomotiva to Cibona, which has been kept until today.

Half a decade later, in the early 80's, the days of glory for the Croatian club began. Two present members of the Hall of Fame, Kresimir Cosic and Drazen Petrovic, in the period between 1980 and 1987 led Cibona to a total of 13 trophies (9 domestic – 3 National Championships: 1982, 1984 and 1985; and 6 National Cups: 1980-1983, 1985, 1986; plus 4 European). Cibona reached the European Crown two years in a row, in 1985 and 1986. In these golden ages, the Wolfs from Tuskanac (which is their nick name) won the European Cup Winners' Cup (today the Saporta Cup) two times. The first win was in 1982, and the European Cup Winners' Cup won in 1987 was the last international trophy that came to the Croatian capital. To be more precise, another European title was won by Cibona, but it was the unofficial pre-season Euroleague Opening Tournament in 2001-2002. The National Cup won in 1988 was the last title Cibona won before the state of Yugoslavia died.

Since the establishment of the Croatian League, Cibona VIP has won the National Championship every season except in 2003, when it lost the final matches to another former European basketball giant, Split. Moreover, there have been five National Cup trophies stored in their trophy case (1995, 1996, 1999, 2001 and 2002).

Cibona deserved a flattering attribute of a regular Euroleague member, because it is the only club which played in the Euroleague each of the last 11 seasons. Last year, the Wolfs held the Euroleague's record – 8 wins and 6 losses in the first part of season. It is worth mentioning that Cibona ended the first part of the season with a flawless 7-0 record at their home court, the Drazen Petrovic Center. Cibona opened the second round, the Top 16 competition, with three lost matches in a row. However, the Croatian club came to two victories, one over Olympiacos and one over CSKA, accomplishing a 50% success rate with more than demanding competitors, some of the best European clubs.

In the domestic competition, Cibona was completely dominant, with an 18-2 score, which guaranteed the number one seed for the playoffs. After easily beating Sibenka 3-0 in the semifinals, in the final series Cibona's performance was better than Zadar's, which was enough to regain the title of the best Croatian team.

Last year, Cibona had a great opportunity to win another international trophy, because it organized the regional League's Final Tournament in its home court. However, Reflex was better in the final game (71-70) deserving the League's ring.

The Team

Since its golden period, Cibona has cherished a basketball philosophy of scoring a point more than an opponent – giving accent on the phase of attack. In the season ahead it seems that coach Anzulovic will have to convert this strategy into a philosophy of bloody knees, paying attention to defense. The reason for this is a quality deficit, if the present roster is compared with the previous one.

After the last season, seven key players left the club. The team that Cibona lost during the summer would have been able to beat any team in Europe. This list consists of the following players: James Scoonie Penn, Slaven Rimac (both are in Makedonikos), Mamic (ALBA), Kus (AEK), Krasic (Panellinios), Mance (Olimpija) and Golemac (Ural Great). All of them are oriented towards scoring, except Mamic, who was a multi-valuable player and a man for special tasks on defense (he was mostly responsible for marking the opponent's best player).

Cibona did not lose in the center position. On the other hand, this is irrelevant, due to the fact that the club from Zagreb has not had a strong center line in ages, a line that would be capable of giving a rest to the guards, and taking responsibility by scoring points. For decades, the strength of Cibona has lain on the guards, play-makers and shooting as well.

The players who joined the team during the summer unfortunately can not ensure the quality and the wide specter of different solutions that coach Anzulovic had for the last season.

In the last several seasons, Cibona has patched up its team by buying on the Croatian market, which was very poor this summer. The best players left the club in a financial crisis, a club which was not able to stay in touch with their supporters' expectations and more importantly – with its own obligations to the players.

The summer of 2004 will be remembered as the first one in the last 13-14 years which brought a trade deficit.

A significant weakness is a completely changed roster; some time will have to be spent for the team to become cohesive. Due to the decreased quality, Penn's absence would also be hard to replace, considering the fact that he has a gift to play for himself and to improve the performance of everyone else on the team. Popovic, who was borrowed in last mid-season from Pamesa, was late in joining the team (because he thought he would go back to Pamesa this season), and his career so far has been marked as that of an extraordinary one-on-one player with excellent passing skills who could be a little bit lost if the coach would insist that he play in accordance with a set scheme.

Furthermore, the team is still poor at the 4 and 5 positions. But it is something that could be called a standard Cibona's weakness.

Cibona's roster was made last minute, and it seems that it was completed without a clear vision. The players have almost no experience of playing in the strongest European competition. However, this problem could turn into an advantage if the squad recognizes this situation as an opportunity to present itself to a wider basketball market.

In next edition of the Euroleague, Cibona will base its play on the axis of Popovic (guard, 182 cm, age 22) and Zizic (center, 206 cm, age 24).

Both of them are capable of resolving one-on-one situations. Therefore, it is logical to assume that Cibona will impose pick-and-role as much as possible. If they are in good form and if they have support from Sesar (shooting guard, 196 cm, age 26), formerly the best junior in Europe, Cibona will have trump cards to prepare an unpleasant surprise for the favorites.

Anzulovic will insist on a fast ball transition in order to score as many easy points as possible. During nine rounds of regional Goodyear League, Anzulovic made a lot of rotations in order to find out what he could expect from each Wolf, and to try some new variants.

Paradoxically, for a team which has five European titles, the most significant strengths in the next season will be the absence of any imperative.

No Name, Family Name Country Position Height (cm) Year of Birth
6 Damir Omerhodzic Croatia Forward 209 1985
7 Branimir Longin Croatia Guard 196 1978
8 Andrija Zizic Croatia Center 206 1980
10 Josip Sesar Croatia Guard 196 1978
14 Marton Bader Hungary Forward-Center 212 1980
15 Josko Poljak Croatia Center 214 1978
20 Marin Rozic Croatia Forward 201 1983
21 Vedran Morovic Croatia Guard 183 1983
24 Marko Popovic Croatia Guard 182 1982
25 Josip Vrankovic Croatia Guard 199 1968
50 Vladimir Krstic Croatia Guard 184 1972

It is to be expected that the starters will be: Popovic, Sesar, Vrankovic, Bader and Zizic.

Vrankovic was engaged during the middle of last season as a back-up for the injured Mamic. He is of the same variety: very reliable, full of experience, specialized for delicate tasks in the defensive role, capable of scoring behind 6,25m, and more than skillful enough so as to use the advantage of excellent left-penetration (he is a left-handed player).

Bader is the first Hungarian player on Cibona in its history. It was very questionable what his contribution to the team which plays in Euroleague competition on a regular basis (every season) could be – taking into consideration the fact that Bader came from a club (Krka) that did not even qualify for the Goodyear League. In other words, skeptics pointed out that the Hungarian came from a club which lost ¼ of final games against the club (Helios) which did not feel the joy of victory in the regional league. In a pre-season prediction, it was assumed that Sesar will finally have space to develop his long imprisoned talent and to prove to himself and others that he did not forget how to play basketball. However, bearing in mind that his basketball skills were not questionable – a fear of his state of mind would be present all the time. Before Popovic's comeback, Sesar was pointed out as a potential leader of this squad. Now it would be interesting to see how he will play having a role of the person from the shadow.

Rozic (acquired from Livorno) could be a substitution for the former best European junior. He is not a guard as Sesar, but in the pre-season period he proved that he could be the most successful point man.

Krstic (PG), would be an alternative for Popovic, but in some cases, Anzulovic could play with Popovic on the play position and with Krstic on the position of the shooting guard. Krstic is also a reliable player, aware of his own capabilities, skillful enough to avoid unforced turnovers and capable of breaking the opponent's zone defense shooting behind 6,25m.

Important Players

There are only two stars. One of them, Popovic, seems no longer in full glow.

Popovic was the mother and father of Zadar's team which won the Goodyear League title in 2002-2003. He is absolutely unpredictable in attack direction and therefore it is very hard to take eye on him. Besides, he has a very fast and very explosive first step which ensures him an advantage in penetration under a man from defense responsible for him. There is an opinion among coaches that had Popovic been born 10-15 cm taller he would be an NBA star by now. He is self-confident enough to take all responsibility in the horror finals of the game. He dares to break the first line to defense and to shoot over 2,10m+ centers who are responsible for taking-over. Popovic spends a lot of time during practice for training three-point-shoots from 8-9 meters. If it is his day of taking advantages of fast penetration and precise long-distance shots, he is almost unstoppable.

He could be concerned about losing a season in Pamesa (Why did they not try to keep him on the team?) and further improvement of defense.

Zizic is another star and another member of the Croatian national Team in Cibona' s roster. This season will probably be a season of his full affirmation. Zizic, or Ziza, which is his nickname, is equally excellent in both directions – attacking and defending. His shot is completely formed, which is not surprising because he comes from the well-known Split basketball school.

Cibona's results will mostly depend on the performances of its stars.


Even with a roster weaker than the one from last season – Cibona has the same goals in domestic competition – to reach both trophies (National Cup and National Championship). In Goodyear League, playing in the final game again would be nice success.

In wider and the most prestige competition, Euroleague, Cibona will try to find space for the qualification in the second round, Top 16, primarily over Prokom and Partizan – clubs on the same quality level. Besides, Wolfs will do their best to try to surprise maybe even Olympiacos and Estudiantes, teams that are thought of as better than Cibona, but at the same time they are not considered untouchable. There is no doubt that Climamio, Real and Efes are from the league above. It is to be expected that Cibona will struggle for fifth or sixth place and further living in Europe. Bearing in mind the fact that Wolfs always play at their home court (capacity: 6000) in accordance with the nickname – each guest will have to put forth an extraordinary effort to win in Zagreb.


Cibona, with a certain dose of luck, would not have special problems to meet the aforementioned expectations.




Despite having reached the Korak Cup final in 1977, Fortitudo Bologna (the team is named now Climamio because that's the sponsor) doesn't have a great tradition amongst the biggest clubs in Europe. It wasn't until the 90's when the team established itself amongst the basketball elite for good. Indeed, Fortitudo has been perhaps the most consistent Italian club during the last decade, playing in the finals of the domestic league eight out of the last nine seasons, although they only won the championship once (in the 99/00 season). In the Euroleague, Fortitudo has reached the Final Four twice, in 1999 and 2004, while getting to the semifinals in 2001, the year of the divided competition (one organized by FIBA and the other one by ULEB). They played in the playoff system organized by ULEB.

The team

This is a very young team, the new goals of Fortitudo is trying to develop young players that have the ambition to play at the highest level in Italy and Europe and signing players while maintaining a respectful budget. Fortitudo has lost important players this summer. Carlos Delfino signed with the Detroit Pistons after 2 solid years in Bologna, Belgian center Tomas Van den Spiegel signed with Rome as a free agent, Finnish power forward Hanno Mottola signed with Pesaro and A.J.Guyton with a team in the Italian minor leagues. The new players are very interesting: Simone Cotani, Ruben Douglas, Martin Rancik and Dalibor Bagaric. The new forward is Simone Cotani, a young player (23) 6' 8'' 240 lbs, the MVP in the Italian Junior Championship. He has a great punch, terrific athleticism, he plays hard, his only real downside is his outside shooting. He will share forward duties with the great Italian prospect Stefano Mancinelli (21). Mancinelli and Cotani are two players with similar characteristics, they were great at the youth level because of their athleticism, but became used to finding easy shots inside the paint and did not developed an outside game. Coach Yasmin Repesa will work a lot with them to polish their game.

Ruben Douglas, a former NCAA star, received a good offer from Fortitudo after a good season in Greece, he now has a great chance to show his incredible offensive skills all over Europe. Martin Rancik is a steady player with great experience in Italy, he will enter the frontcourt rotation with Matjaz Smodis, Erazem Lorbek, Dalibor Bagaric and Ramelli. The backcourt has three famous players, the Serbian ace Milos Vujanic and two silver Olympic medalists; Gianmarco Pozzecco and Gianluca Basile (MVP of the italian champioship last season). Young Marco Belinelli (18) will backup the guards.

The strengths of this team are above average athleticism for the European level, coach Repesa, shooting abilities, enthusiasm from their playing environment (fans follow the team everywhere and pack the Paladozza in Bologna). The weaknesses are the inexperience of some players because of their youth, and the fact that other teams in Italy (MPS and Benetton) and in Europe (CSKA Moscow and Barcelona) have more experienced players and a bigger budget.

On defence the team prefers man to man and zone pressing. On offense there are many options, shooting from outside with schemes for Basile, Douglas, Smodis and Vujanic, fast breaks run by Vujanic and Pozzecco, the inside game of Bagaric, Rancik, Lorbek, Cotani and Mancinelli, and we cannot forget that Pozzecco is the master in Europe of the art of pick and roll.

Draft Prospects

Since Zoran Savic is in the front office, this team has been betting on youth, and this year the roster features three draft prospects. Erazem Lorbek should have more playing time this season. This summer he was the MVP of the European Under 20 Championship. He has great skills, he's 6' 11'', and he only has to improve his stamina and his punch. Marco Belinelli is a very nice shooting guard, with a good shot and range, slashing abilities and court vision. While it's too early to predict great things for this player, his future should be bright. Finally, Stefano Mancinelli, a lefthanded 6' 8'' player who was the last player cut from the Italian National Team this summer, is an outstanding athlete who still needs to develop his perimeter game.


Bologna will try to improve on last year's results in the Euroleague and Italian Championship. It won't be easy because Fortitudo came in second in both competitions, with a very young team Fortitudo was defetead by Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague and by Montepaschi Siena in the Italian Championship. According to GM Zoran Savic, this team will try to reach TOP 16 in the Euroleague and the semifinals in Italy, and from there everything is possible.


The team will likely make the Top-16, while reaching the Final Four is quite a long shot.


by Sadik Iliman


Efes Pilsen is one of the most famous teams in Europe. They went through a Golden Period when they won the Korac cup and qualified for the Final Four last year with ex-Efes and Turkish national team coach Aydin Örs. After Örs resiged, Ulker coach Ergin Ataman was his replacement, and he also took Efes to the Final Four. Ataman's resignation was caused by a tenuous relationship between him and management. Then assistant coach Oktay Mahmuti took over for Ataman, but fans did not have much confidence in their new coach, primary because of his youth (only 33 years old). But Mahmuti showed he had the stuff to be one of the best coaches in Europe by carring Efes to the Suproleague Final Four in Paris, where Efes was defeated by Panathinaikos.

The Team

Efes Pilsen always loses their star players at the end of the season due to economical reasons. Last year they lost the star duo Brown-Kambala and this year they lost the star duo of Granger-Langdon. However, when it comes to signing players, the media still does not have any trust in their decisions. Last year many pundits proclaimed players suck as Nikolic were not Euroleague material. But by the end of the season these voices disappeared.

This year Efes kept their frontcourt, but losing PG Kerem Tunceri was a blow until they signed Will Solomon, one of the best guards in Europe. They also signed Henry Domercant from Karsiyaka, the top scorer of the Turkish league last year. Domercant will replace Trajan Langdon. As for Turkish players, Efes also signed some interesting young players like Baris Ermis and Erkan Veyseloglu.

People are probably tired of reading about the strengths of Efes, because they have not changed over the years and it is doubtful that they ever change: Defense. Defense. Defense. Efes is known as the best defensive team in Europe. Coach Mahmuti is a coach who always spurned any type of zone defense, and this roster is perfect for some hard-nosed man to man defense. Solomon and Domercant are very quick players who love to play the passing lanes for an easy steal. At small forward, Alper Yilmaz is know for his excellent defense. People in Turkey call him clamp because of his legendary defense over the years. The front court is truly something special on this team. The Prkacin-Nikolic-Peker-Kurtoglu rotation is a tremendous mixture of offensive and defensive abilities, each player can contribute on both sides of the court, so foul trouble should never be a worry.

Everything on offense will depend on the backcourt. The team's first scoring option should be Solomon, but Efes is not used to having their PG as the main offensive option. That is something they will have to adjust to. Really, the only weakness of the team is at the offensive end. Efes can score a lot of points, but in the past they have had trouble on the raod. Losing the Olimpija match in the Top 16 last year was caused by this problem, and it also cost them the Final Four. They have to work on remaining consistent.

Possible starting 5 (including backups):

PG: Solomon/Arslan
SG: Domercant/Akyol
SF: Yilmaz/Abi/Veyseloglu
PF: Peker/Kurtoglu
C: Prkacin/Nikolic

Important Players

Who is going to be the go-to-guy? After losing Granger and Langdon, Efes has someone interesting to fill in the job: Will Solomon. Solomon is a very dangerous offensive player, almost unstoppable one on one. Henry Domercant will also have a key role on this team. In the past, there have been questions about his performance, and there are many this year as well. This is his first Euroleague season and it is hard to know what to expect, but it is hoped that he will take on a large role for this team. A lot will also depend on Ender Arslan, the PG of the team. Right now it is unclear how Mahmuti will use him: either he will start Arslan at PG, Solomon at SG, and Domercant at SF, or he will use Arslan as a backup if he wants to start Solomon at the PG. Either way, Arslan will see a lot of minutes this year, especially since he is the only true PG on the team. His leadership and control will be invaluable.

Draft Prospects

Efes Pilsen has some interesting prospects to keep your eye on: Ender Arslan, Cenk Akyol, and Baris Ermis. Arslan will see enough time this year, so it will be a chance for him to show his potential. He won't score that much, but people will be looking to see how he controls the game and leads his team. He has not work on his defensive especially.

Cenk Akyol played phenomenal in the last few weeks, especially for the Turkish national team in the European championship qualifications. He played good in the preparation games too. It is amazing to see how easily the game comes to him, he can contribute everywhere on the court. The largest area of improvement needed is on the defensive end, where he needs to be more physical. Akyol will get playing time (coach Mahmuti has already said this), so he will have a chance to prove himself.

The last prospect, Baris Ermis, is a surprising candidate. He was invited to the national team by head coach Tanjevic and also played some minutes against the US and in the qualification games. He had some problems after being benched by the Besiktas coach last year. But he did show some flashes late last year against ITU, Banvit, and Darussfaka in the Turkis Cup. However, it will be difficult for him to get many minutes in the Euroleague. Players such as Yilman, Abi, and Veyseloglu will fill the rotation.

I also want to briefly mention Valentin Pastal, who is a fairly unknown player because he played rarely in the Turkish league. This year he has shown some good skills in the preparation games and will definitely see some playing time in the Turkis league, but it is doubtful he sees minutes in the Euroleague.


The expectations have not changed: Final Four. Two years ago Efes was knocked out by CSKA in the Top 16. Last year they lost tragically in Bologna after a buzzer beater by Skipper guard Gianluca Basile. It was one basket which kept Efes at home. This year will be another run at the Final Four in Moscow. And there is no reason why Efes should not be considered a favorite.


Efes will finally make it to the Final Four, and could perhaps make it to the final if they do not match up with CSKA first.


by Davor Nincic


KK Partizan Pivara MB has a long standing tradition within Serbia's accomplishment-filled basketball history. Its biggest triumph came in 1992 when Partizan outright won the Euroleauge title with a buzzer beating 3 point shot from legendary European PG Aleksandar Djordjevic, who at one point in his career played for the Portland TrailBlazers. That Euroleague triumph receives even more weight when the fact that all "home" games were played in Spain factors in. The reason for this were the UN sanctions against Serbia, which affected all sports events in the country.

Partizan also has a couple of other Final Four apperances to its credit, in 1988 and 1998. The 1988 generation would go on to win the Korac Cup title the following season and was led by a young center who would later go on to much greater fame in the NBA--Vlade Divac. The 1998 appearance, to this date, remains the biggest accomplishment by a Serbian club since the war in the early '90s broke the league of the ex-Yugoslavia, which had been by far the strongest league in the world outside the NBA.

That generation included future NBA players Predrag Drobnjak and Ratko Varda, as well as long time national team contributors Dejan Tomasevic, Dragan Lukovski and the late Haris Brkic.

The team will play in its fourth consecutive season in the Euroleague, after finishing with a 6-8 record last year. Partizan was injury-riddled that year, falling short out of a Top 16 appearance.

Another important fact to note: KK Partizan and North Carolina University are the two entities which produced the most NBA players within the past 15 years.

The Team

This is a remade team. After almost handily winning the national championship (never lost more than a game in a playoff series) last year, many of its top players moved on. Freddie House is in Lithuania, Vlado Scepanovic in Greece, Nenad Krstic in New Jersey and team captain Djuro Ostojic is in Spain. Those four players were their top four players, so losing them means having to adapt to the seven new players that came in. Reigning Serbian league MVP Dejan Milojevic brings an excellent post game to the team, whilst he's backed up by young centers Kosta Perovic and Predrag Samardziski. Taking the reigns at PG will be the experienced Vule Avdalovic, who was on the national team for two straight summers, competing as the backup PG at the European Championshpip in 2003 and in the Athens Olympics this summer. Bringing depth to the wing positions are Luka Bodganovic, Predrag Suput and Petar Bozic, all of whom had excellent seasons in the Serbian league with other teams last year. An especially significant new addition well after the season had started is Milan Gurovic. Milan is a player with vast experience on both national team (he won European and World championship gold) and club level competitions.

Draft Prospects

This is a team loaded with NBA talent. With Nenad Krstic gone, the starting center position is finally Kosta Perovic's to lose. He had filled in nicely with Krstic's injuries the past two seasons, but it'll be interesting to see how he does when there's no one ahead of him on the depth charts. He still remains an almost assured 1st round prospect, however.

Perovic himself first drew attention as a backup two season ago, and that role will now be filled by Predrag Samardziski, another 1st round prospect. After playing a season with Partizan affiliate in Division II play, Predrag almost entered the draft in 2004, but decided against it as playing against much tougher and much more intimidating competition can improve his stock. This can, however, turn to be a two headed sword, as it can also expose flaws of his game that inferior competition wasn't able to.

At the swingman position is yet another NBA prospect, probable 2nd rounder Luka Bogdanovic. Luka played at the Hoop Summit game in San Antonio vs the USA's top High Schoolers in the spring of 2004, and was the international team's MVP. Even though he is only 19, he brings vast experience to the team, having been a starter with rival Red Star Belgrade for 2 seasons. He too decided against entering the 2004 draft with the idea that a season in the Euroleague can only improve his stock. More on his transfer later on.

Finally, rounding out the prospect list is Uros Tripkovic, who will see minutes at backup PG and SG. More on him can be read in Luis's article on notable guards at the European Junior Championships here.

Important Players

By far the biggest controversy surrounding KK Partizan transfers this offseason revolved around Luka Bogdanovic. Naming reasons of sports nature, such as his discontent with his position on the floor (he wants to be on the wing, the coach wanted him in the paint) and playing time, Luka Bogdanovic signed a 3 year contract with KK Partizan, Red Star Belgrade's long time arch rival.

The only problem was that his contract with Red Star had still been valid and ongoing, despite claims by Luka and his father that that wasn't the case. Red Star filed an appeal with the Registrary Commission, which typically handles these kinds of cases and its panel consists of legal experts who study the clauses of the contracts. The Commission ruled in favor of Red Star, meaning Luka was still their's.

That wasn't the end of it, however. The federation's Board of Directors voted 7-6 to overturn the Commission's decision, thus making Luka's contract with Partizan valid. This prompted the Commission's president, Goran Dajevic, to resign, naming lack of legal support of the Board's decision as his reason for doing so. He went on to say that the Board "made no legal sense whatsoever, because they've justified one legal decision with sport motives."

The Board's decision stood, however, as Luka has already played a couple of preseason games with Partizan. His suspension for missing the European Junior Championships still stands, however, and it has prevented him from debuting with Partizan in the Adriatic league.


Head Coach Dusko Vujosevic in a recent interview with said the following: "Our goal is to play modern basketball at top speed both on defense and on offense, with a lot of assists and fastbreaks, as the biggest European teams play. Our team will rise from game to game, I am sure. If we are realistic, the truth is that we are far away from the Top 16 at the moment. But we know how to handle the mission impossible."


It's hard to imagine a scenario in which this remade KK Partizan team would get past their tough group and enter the Top 16 stage.

Other Comments

After 3 years at the helm, Partizan legends Vlade Divac and Predrag Danilovic left their positions as co-presidents of the team naming reasons of financial nature. Their opposition to entering play in the Adriatic league wasn't supported, and while the team makes its debut in that competition, it'll have to be done without its longtime supporters.


by Dimistris Ritsonis


A team with a great history in Europe, Olympiakos was one of the teams on the Continent during the mid-90s, reaching the Final Four Finals in 1994 and 1995, and capturing the trophy in 1997. They had tremendously good squads under coaches Yiannis Ioannidis and Dusan Ivkovic. Their rosters included Euro stars like Panayiotis Fassoulas, Walter Berry, Roy Tarpley, Zarko Paspalj, Yorgos Sigalas, and Aleksander Volkov. The team had great success in Greece too, winning 5 straight titles from 1993 to 1997. But since then they have been overshadowed by Panathinaikos and have not grabbed a single title. The team has been gradually declining, and last year they barely made the playoffs (final spot), where they were ousted by Panathinaikos in the first round. However, they did manage to reach the Top-16 of Euroleague last year.

The Team

The team had a tremendously bad summer, where a confused team-owner resigned from the basketball team, then returned; decided to force young coach Milan Tomic to quit and then join the team as a player again. Tomic, Milan Minic and recently Lithuanian Jonas Kazlauskas took over as coaches for a team that has yet to show significant progress in its game. The team will need time to recover from the consecutive gameplay alterations. The squad has been changed significantly since last year and now the starting point guard spot is taken by 23-year old Marque Perry (NBDL assist leader last year, 6-2, St Louis), who is tiny and flashy, but we don't really know anything else about him and his game stability. Experienced Serbian shooter Dusan Vukcevic (28, 6-7) will handle the scoring. American ex-NBDL star and ex-NBA player Lavor Postell (26, 6-8) will add quickness, defense and rebounding, as he is getting better from game to game. The front-line seems even weaker than in the past, and only one center is expected to be added really soon, as starting center Lazaros Agadakos (24, 6-10) is a good banger-like rebounder, fine passer and mid-range shooter, but lacks finesse, athleticism and quickness. Power forwards Ivica Jurkovic (29, 6-9, Slovenian) and Vangelis Sklavos (26, 6-10) are also unathletic, raw and below-average rebounders, but are fine perimeter shooters and on occasion can draw double-teams to free teammates. The bench is also very thin and any injury can cost a great deal to Olympiakos' stability.

Draft Prospects

No real draft prospects around.

Important Players

Vukcevic is a really gifted shooter, and on some occasions can lead an above-average Euroleague team. But his game has declined, and even if his shot remains good, he can do little more on the court. His team mentality is not very trustworthy, and he can certainly not be defined as a team-oriented player. Perry is a fine talent, but he has only played once for the Reds. He had a fine first game, when he whined offensively and proved he is a good passer, but this was just a sample and one game has never scared anyone. Despite depnding again on their perimeter players, Olympiakos will probably miss last years' scoring threats Panayiotis Liadelis and Hristos Harissis. They both had the talent to dominate games and score a standard 20 points per game, if they were given the chance.


In Greece, there is only one team that fans expect to have a nice Euroleague season. That team is Panathinaikos and the Reds are difficult to compare with the Greens. The budget is good, but not among the European Elite. And their losing reputation over the past 3-4 years has prevented many good European players from joining the team from Piraeus. Last year, Olympiakos surprisingly made it to the top-16, but then lost 5 of the 6 games. Their Arena is SEF (Stadium of Peace and Freindship), which can host 15,000 spectators.


Despite playing in the easiest of the 3 groups, Olympiakos is a far chance from making it to the top-16. If we say it is a lock for Panathinaikos and a very weird coincidence for AEK to make the top 16 they we have to say for Olympiakos that it is impossible to qualify. I wouldn't be surprised if they don't win 4-5 games in a total.

Other Comments

Except from their very tiring Euroleague experience, the young Reds will need much patience to even qualify for the playoffs in Greek A1 basketball. They are a relatively young team, with a new (yet very capable coach) and it will take time for them to cover all the holes (especially in the frontcourt). They are probably looking at the long-term this season.


by Tomasz Kwiatkowski


Prokom Trefl from Sopot (city between Gdansk and Gdynia, at the Polish seaside), Poland. Last year's Polish league Champion. It was their first Polish league title and third participation in the finals in three consecutive years. The club was founded just ten years ago, in 1994, then in three seasons climbed from fourth to the Polish premier league, after that, won bronze medal in the 2000-2001 season and Polish Cup in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001. Since 2000-2001, the club has been taking part in European Cups, starting with the Korac Cup (two times, average results), then FIBA Champions Cup (2nd place in 2001-2002 season, after losing to the Aris Thessaloniki, Greece).

Last season they were playing in the ULEB Cup and in 1/8 final, lost to the eventual champion, Hapoel Jerusalem from Israel. This will be the first appearance of Prokom Trefl Sopot in the Euroleague. Right now Prokom Trefl has the biggest budget in the Polish league. The amount of money isn't known officially but I think it is not more than $3.5 million

The Team

Prokom Trefl team:
Tomas Pacesas, Lithuania, 1971, 6'3, PG/SG – mental leader of the team, old-style player, not fast at all but very strong, taking care of set plays, not very good in fast breaks.

Darius Maskoliunas, Lithuania, 1971, 6'5, SG/PG - very intelligent player, with great experience, former captain of the Lithuanian national team (bronze medal in Sydney 2000), defensive specialist; not an offensive threat other than his 3-point shot.

Istvan Nemeth, Hungary, 1979, 6'3, PG/SG - new player, leader of the Hungarian national team, very fast, good athletic abilities, prefers fast breaks and ball movement, good defender with great foot work.

Mark Miller, USA, 1975, 6'2, SG – quick and very athletic, tremendous jumping abilities, likes fast breaks and penetrations, good defender.

Tomasz Swietonski, Poland, 1984, 6'1, PG

Andrija Ciric, Serbia, 1980, 6'6, SG/SF - new player, last year's Belgian champion with Charleroi, strong and quick, likes to go to the rim and finish with a spectacular jam, very aggressive on defense; his outside shoot is not very reliable.

Goran Jagodnik, Slovenia, 1974, 6'8, SF - main scorer of the team, go-to guy, natural-born shooter, great 3 point shot, loves to use his strength to establish a position, great rebounder on the defensive end.

Tomas Masiulis, Lithuania, 1975, 6'9, PF - most important player of a team when it come to defense, very solid and smart but a quiet and calm guy, great at double-teaming, playing help defense and reading passing lanes, not very athletic but tough, great rebounder under offensive board thanks to his instinct and ability to establish good position, scores mostly in the paint but is also able to shoot a 3 pointer.

Filip Dylewicz, Poland, 1980, 6'8, PF – best player of the Polish national team, very quick in the offense – likes to play facing the basket against bigger and slower opponents and shoot 3-pointers, but can also overplay smaller ones with his post skills; his weaker side is defense (poor foot work and lack of consistency in focusing on the game), but is very dangerous shot-blocker and rebounder (especially on the offensive end) thanks to his great jumping ability.

Adam Wojcik, Poland, 1970, 6'10, PF/C - new player of the team, best polish player of the last decade, great scorer, great athleticism, not very strong but fast, with good jumping abilities, has a lot of post-moves, is able to score from short and middle range, and to shot from the 6,25 line. Not very good at rebounding and defense but can block some shots from the weak side.

Harold Jamison, USA, 1976, 6'8, PF/C - new player, undersized but very big and tough, fast hands, good foot work, great jumping ability, long arms, he is a defensive and rebounding specialist for this team. Hard to watch from the free throw line.

Prokom Trefl is a middle-level European team without any big star but with a pair of quite good and very experienced players. Their biggest strength is that almost all the most important players are playing here for more than one year, they understand each other well and there is a really good atmosphere inside the team. Due to an average budget, coaches and management were not able to buy any really big star, so they have chosen to make only a few changes and to collect 10 good players. The team's biggest weakness is its short bench (in case of any injury), lack of real center and quality of their point guards. Having a pair of 33 year-old, not very fast and playing in slow style playmakers makes a big impact on the general style of a team. Prokom Trefl has no dominant players inside, except Adam Wojcik, who is very dangerous playing one on one and is able to score in the paint and from the 3 point line, but is not a strong post-up player, so they are using their outside players and making a lot of 3-point shots. They prefer half-court offense, set plays with a lot of screens, ball movement and individual actions of their scoring leader, Slovenian forward Goran Jagodnik, who is using his strentgh and athleticism against generally weaker opponents, and Adam Wojcik playing one-on-one face or back to the basket. On the defensive end, Prokom Trefl is using hard, mixed one-on-one and zone defense.

Right now, Prokom Trefl is one of the oldest teams in the Euroleague, with only one player born before 1980, young Polish playmaker Tomasz Swietonski (1984, 6'1). He is still learning how to play on a professional level, getting few minutes on the court in easier games in the Polish league. He has no chance at becoming an NBA draft prospect, but he may be a national team player some day (you must know that the Polish national team is not a good one, with little chance to play in the European Championship finals). There are some interesting young players in Prokom Trefl's youth teams, especially one - Adam Lapeta, 1987, 7'0, 240 lbs. He already has a good body frame, but needs to work a lot on a basketball basis. Maybe next year he will start training with the first team. Istvan Nemeth (Hungary, 1979, 6'3, PG/SG) was trying to become an NBA draft pick a few years ago, and spent some time in the USA, but he wasn't chosen. Harold Jamison (USA, 1976, 6'8, PF/C) was playing for some NBA teams (Miami, LA Clippers) before joining Prokom Trefl.

If the NBA would have had any interest in European players 10-12 years ago, Adam Wójcik would have been very high on their list. He was a tremendous prospect with very good offensive skills and good quickness for a big guy.

After last season, Prokom Trefl lost three important players - Polish national team shooting guard, 3-point specialist Andrzej Pluta (he is now playing in France), Serbian swingman Dragan Markovic, also deadly from the 3-point line, and Gintaras Einikis, a very experienced Lithuanian center.


Prokom Trefl has the biggest budget in the Polish league and is a main favorite to win a title for the second year in a row – it won't be a big surprise if they win all of their regular season games. However, they have one of the lowest budgets in the Euroleague. The team is playing in the Euroleague for the first time, so there are no official expectations - management wants them just to play well and hard in every game. Looking at other teams in Group A, there is still a chance to get to the next level, since there are only three main favorites to win this group (Climamio Bologna, Efes Pilsen Stambul and Real Madrid), and the rest is nearly at the same level, so any team can beat their opponent, especially on his own court.

In the Polish league, Prokom Trefl is playing in the smallest arena (only 2000 seat capacity), in the Euroleague. They are using a bigger one, where they can host almost 5,500 fans. In the next three years there should be new arena in Gdansk, probably the biggest in Poland, for at least 12,000 fans.


In my opinion, Prokom Trefl is a Top 16 candidate, mostly because of the experience of their players, the tough defense they can play and the easiness of the group they are playing in – (they already won two times on the road, both times the games were very close – Prokom won in Belgrade and Piraeus, where no one can expect an easy game). Advancing to the Top 16 would be a great success for this team, but they have no chance to go any higher than that.

Other Comments

The shallow roster (only 10 players - I'm not counting young Tomasz Swietonski) and the slow, old style of play presented by their point guards can hurt this team badly, as much as the lack of a true, big and tall center. There already are some problems with injuries (Tomas Masiulis is out for at least 4 weeks due to a broken bone in his cheek, Istvan Nemeth is not 100% ready to play after problems with leg muscles) and the team is looking for a new inside player. They were trying to bring another Lithuanian, Arturas Javtokas, from Zalgiris Kaunas, but failed.


by Luis Fernández


Real Madrid has written perhaps the brightest pages in European basketball history (more than a page, we should speak about an entire book). This team is a legend in Europe, and its basketball section can compete in success with the soccer triumphs (Real Madrid is mainly a soccer club). No other team has amassed so many European crowns, 8 in total (1965, 66, 67, 68, 74, 78, 80 and 95), while tyrannizing the Spanish scene for decades, winning 28 Spanish League titles (25 of the 30 first editions, including 10 in a row).

But now Real Madrid is going through its worst period in the last 50 years. Indeed, they will play the Euroleague thanks to an invitation received due to Hapoel Tel-Aviv's renouncement (some fans joke by saying that there always seems to be a wild card ready for Real Madrid).

The Team

While not having a whopping roster, Real Madrid has built a very serious project, led by a European legend coach, Bozidar Maljkovic. The Serbian coach, on his arrival to Real Madrid, has brought with him the perimeter style of basketball he put in practice in his previous team, Unicaja Málaga, including a couple of players from that team's roster: Louis Bullock (SG/PG, 6-1, 28 and Moustapha Sonko (SG/PG, 6-4, 32).

So the tactical picture of Real Madrid rests in a strong perimeter, with quick players that are very dangerous offensively, especially Elmer Bennett (PG, 6-0, 34) and Louis Bullock, and a paint game made of workers like Pat Burke (C, 6-10, 30), Felipe Reyes (PF/C, 6-8, 24) and Antonio Bueno (C, 6-10, 24). Even the starting power forward (and the most talented player of the frontcourt), Antonis Fotsis (PF/SF, 6-10, 23), is more of a perimeter guy, playing constantly facing the basket.

We will see a team wisely directed on court by Elmer Bennett, who is a tireless game creator and, alongside Louis Bullock, will take advantage of his quickness to attack the basket and punish the rival's defensive rotations with his court vision. The pick and roll plays will also be a very used option, basically for the same purposes. The game will mainly born in the hands of those players.

While this team has the talent to be competitive, the lack of an offensive reference on the paint might hurt them big time, as they can become too dependant on Bennett and especially the inspiration of Bullock. Also, rebounding might be an issue. Maljkovic will play many minutes with Bennett, Bullock and Sonko in the same line-up, and that means a very small perimeter. Mickael Gelabale (SF, 6-7, 21) could provide this rebounding, but he's quite young and it remains to see how much Maljkovic will play him.

Draft Prospects

Mickael Gelabale is a very athletic and long, albeit too skinny, small forward. He's not a greatly skilled player, but he can shoot, drive and pass the ball, while grabbing some boards. He must work on his deep range, though. His understanding of the game and decision-making could be better. On the other hand, he rarely gets out of control, and plays perfectly knowing what he can and can't do.

Axel Hervelle, a Belgian signed after the season already started, might provide much needed rebounding from the forward position. He has nice athleticism and quickness, and can play both inside and outside, although he must polish his perimeter skills if he wants to play small forward. He could give Fotsis some rest at the power forward position. Like Gelabale, Hervelle has gone to Real Madrid in part to get better exposure before using up his automatic draft eligibility as a 1983 player.

Jos Ã?ngel Antelo (PF, 6-8, 17) was one of the Spanish stars of the last European Junior Championships. Real Madrid's first intention had been to loan him to a lower division team, just to help him to gain experience playing minutes against decent competition. But after a good preseason, Maljkovic decided to keep him on the final roster. The Serbian coach is well known for caring about developing young players, although given Antelo's age, I'm not sure this was the best option for the kid. With the recent acquisition of Axel Hervelle, his playing time may be reduced to zero.

Important Players

Elmer Bennett has been one of the best point guards all over Europe for the last few years. He enjoys the quickness and athleticism of many of the American athletes, while his long experience in Europe and maturity on court has made a great decision maker out of him. He's the leader of the team and the engine of the offensive game.

An offensive monster, Louis Bullock is a shooting guard trapped in a point guard body, and is capable of score anytime, from anywhere and anyhow. But he's also inconsistent and a bad defender. Maljkovic used to play him as a PG in Málaga. Last season, with Scariolo on command, he was moved to the SG position, and the improvement was spectacular. With Bennett next to him, he'll likely keep playing the off-guard role to lead the offensive punch of his team.

Antonis Fotsis should be playing in the NBA, but he isn't. He has the skills, the athleticism and the size to become the first Greek player to shine there. But he also lacks the character to do it. He will have good games, and he will disappear in others. At this point of his career, and despite his youth, I don't think anybody expects a significant change, I guess not even himself.

Coming from the eternal hometown rival team, Adecco Estudiantes, Felipe Reyes is one of those warriors willing to do the dirty job to allow others to shine. Despite his height, he's a rebounding machine, especially on the offensive glass. He can score some points near the basket, but he isn't the kind of player you can give the ball constantly inside to carry the scoring load.


It's hard to disappoint Real Madrid fans more than they already are with the team's latest performances (they couldn't even make it to the playoffs of the Spanish ACB League in the 2002/03 season), and playing the Euroleague is considered a gift (well, it actually IS a gift). But this team has the players and the coach to get to the top-16 stage. Not getting there should be considered a failure. But I think the team will be more pressured to succeed in the domestic competition first.


I think Real Madrid won't have problems to get to the top-16 round. There, they will have to fight really hard if they want to get to the quarterfinals.

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