The 2013-14 Euroleague season tips off tonight and Emmet Ryan is here to introduce you, old and new, to the year ahead.

I’ve a really tatty pair of running shoes. I only got them in January but they are full of holes and pretty much a threat to my safety. My girlfriend hates them. It doesn’t help that they are the most bizarre combination of luminous colours. There’s no way in hell I’m ever throwing them out. I’m attached. They’re comfortable. They get the job done. They’re mine. That’s the way I feel about this.

With the lyrical complexity of a Mr President song, mixing operatic chanting with some kind of dubstep, it really shouldn’t work. Yet somehow, it’s just right.

“It’s a bit weird, a bit over-dramatic, but, to be honest, it’s unique and that’s why I like it,” says Simonas Baranauskas. “Hearing it at my first in-person Final Four in Istanbul sent a shiver down my spine” says Rob Scott. “This is one of the rare positive things ULEB has done its history. The word of devotion, symbolizes the intensity of Euroleague in many levels and that’s very good and simple expression,” says Cagri Turhan, of In-the-game.org.

It’s not all positive. “It serves its purpose and it’s not a complete Champions League rip off, so we are ok with it,” says Aris Barkas, of EuroHoops.net. “A blatant attempt by Euroleague to balance the Champions League anthem, which still gives me goosebumps even though Olympiacos are not exactly a powerhouse in that competition,” says @rodhig7* of In-the-game.org. Even this site’s roster has a mixture of views. Simon Jatsch of In-the-game.org probably has the best summation. “It’s messy – and therefore a fitting hymn for Euroleague basketball,” he says.

*@rodhig7 recommends Brent Petway compose a new one.

The challenge with every Euroleague season is breaking the hegemony. We know who is likely to make the playoffs. Neutrals just hope for drama, for someone new to step up and threaten. Siena with Bo McCalebb in 2011 were the last true surprise to make the Final Four, coming back from a shellacking in Game 1 of the playoffs with Olympiacos to beat the Reds 3-1. One could argue Olympiacos repaying the favour a year later matched it. Both of these are big clubs, like power houses. We settled for teams we expected to see in contention for the title knocking each other off. While hardly earth-shattering result, these were treats. We expect CSKA, Barcelona, Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, and Real Madrid to make it to the closing stages. All five have two appearances each between them over the past three final fours. Who can break the cycles this season?

“In all likelihood at least two of Barca, Real Madrid and CSKA will prevail and the rest is pretty much up for grabs. New contenders come, old ones go. I have hopes in Turkey posting two quarter finalists this year and Unicaja challenging the big names, whereas a former powerhouse like Baskonia might have difficulties maintaining their status quo,” says Jatsch.

The cyclical nature of the sport, heavily fuelled by finance, means we can at least expect some shuffling. “We used to consider major clubs such as Maccabi Tel Aviv, Saski Baskonia, Montepaschi Siena as a default candidate for Final-Four whatever the budget they have thanks to their traditions. Recently, we don’t sense the same thing, mainly due to narrower budgets,” says Turhan.

“On the other hand, there are more clubs at one level lower group which could threat top teams this season. Recently underachiving teams EA7 Emporio Armani Milano and Unicaja Malaga brought important coaches. Lokomotiv Kuban comes into the game as a rising power. Some other teams could join as well.”

Turhan is far from the only man high on the Turkish challenge this season. Fenerbahce were supposed to have a Final Four roster last year. Certain writers ordained them as candidates for London after just two games. This year however there’s more reason to believe. The Turkish contingent as a whole has gotten deeper. “This season, there’s even greater promise for a more balanced competition. Fener and Galatasaray have enough firepower to join Efes in a trio of elite Turkish teams,” says @rodhig7.

Even the canned interviews by Euroleague TV point to a change in attitude from the Fenerbahce. Just listen to Bo McCalebb here.

Zelijko Obradovic has the small task of proving the Istanbul giants are not coach-killers. If Obradovic can’t win there, can anyone?

While the veteran coach returns to Euroleague this season, after all of a season off, there are departures. Emiliano Carchia of Sportando laments the loss of the spectacular Bobby Brown. Barkas will miss Jordan Farmar “A great player and a class act,” he says.

When it comes to cult players, few have earned the love of one Macedonian. “Pero Antic. Pero Antic’s shot selection. Pero Antic’s defence. Pero Antic’s tattoos. Pero Antic being Pero Antic. I wouldn’t mind a Dusko Ivanovic comeback either,” says @rodhig7. “I’ll be pouring a little out for Pero Antic, Vlad Lucic and Siena’s homecourt,” says Scott.

Antic’s move to the Atlanta caught pretty much everyone by surprise and his return to Euroleague within a year can’t be ruled out. The regular season however gives the opportunity for some new names to catch the eye. Not just player names, new clubs in the 2013-14 season could make an early impact. “I think the league added a nice crop of teams, most of which have the potential to surprise people, especially Lokomotiv,” says Baranauskas.

“Despite losing probably their most important player Nick Calathes, I expect them to be quite good. Although they are in arguably the strongest group, the duo of Derrick Brown and Richard Hendrix will be difficult to stop, while Mantas Kalnietis will play even better than in EuroBasket, with an experienced guy like Sergey Bykov alongside him to take some pressure off,” he says.

In terms of breakout players, Jatsch recommends keeping an eye on Lamont Hamilton with Baskonia. He also rates one youngster particularly highly. “If you’re looking at younger newcomers, 18-year-old Mouhammadou Jaiteh had a pretty good start to the season with Nanterre in the absence of Ali Traoré. If he gets enough playing time, he will produce,” he says.

Jaiteh is 53rd in the DraftExpress rankings but he’s not the only man with the potential to garner attention this season. “A pair of guards should put up big numbers – Sergiy Gladyr at Nanterre and Kim English at Siena. Both teams play a spread offense and shoot in volume from outside, and both guys will fit in perfectly to that. Micah Downs at Budivelnik will be the best in-game dunker,” says Scott.

It’s not just the names on the jerseys that have changed. The possession arrow is out, jump balls are in. Technicals aren’t personals. Timeouts are shorter. American viewers love that even more than we do. But what about the game?

“It is getting faster and with the new rules starting from this season, the game should be even more entertaining. I just hope that it will not be the European NBA with tons of timeouts and break for the TV advertisements,” says Carchia.

“Traditional positions are falling apart: Players who would’ve been held hostage at small forward ten years ago now play as dynamic, modern, multi-skilled power-point forwards©. Capable shooters on at least four positions. Lots of undersized centers. Backcourts with two point guards. These are developments I welcome,” says Jatsch. “On the downside: the way officials are being urged to ignore all sorts of vicious travelling violations these days, even a Gaelic Football player bounces the ball more frequently than your average Euroleague go-to guy.”

I’ll be sure to mention that last one next time a Gaelic Football fan complains the sport is turning into hoops. The game has changed and we’re seeing more tactical ball, in both Gaelic Football** and Euroleague today.

**Shameless plug, buy my book to learn more about Gaelic Football tactics. Ok, back to basketball.

“It has become a heavy pick and roll game right now. Also, as the level of teams get closer to each other compared to twenty years ago, offenses have to be more sophisticated, thinking ahead 3-4 more moves later sometimes to get a clear shot after dealing with several defensive help rotations,” says Turhan.

Baranauskas sees a crossover influence between Europe and the NBA, with the cultures affecting the game on both sides of the ocean. “The current game-style in Euroleague is a nice mash of European fundamentals and ever-growing athleticism and speed, which we usually associate with NBA. With more European players going to the NBA and more American players coming over to Europe, the changes are pretty visible on the court,” says Baranauskas.

“[There are] More pick and rolls, less post ups and iso plays at the wings. The floor looks bigger thanks to all those shooters in the frontcourt. Size matters less than explosiveness. And with competitive balance being constantly undermined by ridiculous budget discrepancies, the three point shot remains one of the few ways to level the playing field (sorta), as it has turned into a skill that every team can rely on from multiple positions,” says @rodhig7

“Euroleague rules have been approaching the NBA playing style, but until Jordi [Bertomeu] and co get serious about the financial imbalance in the European game, the three point line should stay where it is, even if that means more ill-advised perimeter shots,” he says. Competitive imbalance isn’t the only concern. Strides are being made but the gap between Europe and that bigger looks wider than the Atlantic in some aspects.

“Euroleague is making constant steps of improvement but 11 years after its creation, European basketball needs more in order to close the gap with the NBA. We are still the poor relatives and even if in some cases the difference is not that big on the court, in every other league aspect, Europe is still far behind,” says Barkas.
I started with an analogy to my shoes. I’ll finish with Frank Capra. Merry Euroleague you wonderful old Building and Loan. It’s good to have you back.

My sincerest thanks to the journalists and bloggers who assisted on this feature.

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