So 2011 may have been few people’s favorite year personally, European basketball fans have certainly got to be taking solace in the fact that the past 12 months featured a seriously great run of Continental-flavored hoops.

To wit, in 2011, we enjoyed:

• an exciting round of Euroleague playoffs which included FC Barcelona’s surprising tournament-round exit and culminated in storied franchise Panathinaikos bagging its third EL trophy in five years;

• in domestic leagues, another weird Bundesliga playoff tournament, another controversial Greek tourney, and from Italy and Spain second-place shockers Bennet Cantù and Bizkaia Bilbao Basket advancing;

• lots of European superstars battling it out in the NBA playoffs, particularly on the Western Conference side, with Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and of course Dirk Nowitzki proving so key to their teams’ successes (or lack thereof);

the Eurobasket 2011 tournament hosted in the world’s basketball-maddest country which ultimately inspired Team Serbia coach Dusan Ivkovic to opine that “this has been the strongest European Championship in history…” (and, judging only from the star content alone, BiE would probably agree, despite a general loathing for such hyperbole directly after an event);

• some awesome schadenfreude-laced moments as NBA refugees came to play on the Continent during the player lockout, plus all the incredibly amusing speculation on names beginning with Kobe Bryant; and finally

• the close to the 2011-12 Euroleague regular season with a week 10 that featured some crazy dogfights for entry and positioning in the Top 16 round, including a great do-or-die game between Emporio Armani Milano and Partizan Belgrade.

Olympic Games or no, how can basketball year 2011 be topped? On the first day of the new year, BallinEurope takes a last brief look back at the most popular stories we ran in 2011. Relive one killer 365 days of European roundball once more below.

1. Eurobasket 2011 Power Rankings: First take. With nine days to go before Eurobasket 2011 tipped off, European basketball fans were clearly focused on the international tournament. While power rankings are not designed to predict the final outcome of a given competition, history shows that BiE’s first assessment was decent, at least up top. Three of BiE’s first four did eventually get through to the quarterfinals. Lithuania, Serbia and Greece were placed too high, Croatia was way too high. But note Finland in the top 16, though! And whereas your bracket surely had FYR Macedonia getting a 2012 Olympic bid, nine days before the tournament, the BallinEurope Power Rankings had them … (gulp) 23rd?

2. Top salaries in European basketball, 2011-12. Soon after Deron Williams signed up for a $5 million-or-so salary with Beşiktaş JK in July, the intrigue began along with fandom’s burgeoning panic about what David “El Jefe” Stern would later dub the NBA’s “Nuclear Winter.” The numbers posted on BallinEurope drew a much attention as we all speculated on just which European clubs might be able to afford who … ultimately nearly creating some strange bedfellows indeed.

3. Ron Artest to play in Finland. No, really. Actually, in reality, not. But today’s Metta World Peace isn’t really about reality, is he? No matter, #15 is one of the funner, funnier tweeters out there and for a short while we believed (or wanted to believe) in this madcap plan – and later that he’d be suiting up for the Cheshire Jets. How droll!

4. Highlights from Ty Lawson’s epic Twitter venting. What can be said about this that hasn’t already been tweeted? October 25, 2011, might have gone done as notable date in European basketball tweeting history if, you know, the collective consciousness regarding Twitter lasted longer than 24 hours or so. For two hours, Lawson tossed the 141-character ball back and forth with mostly Lithuanian fans. Despite having to deal with some of the shadier side of fandom, Tweeter Ty stayed honest, truthful and even pithy throughout.

5. Report: Deron Williams to Beşiktaş Cola Turka. BallinEurope was one of the first English-language sites to break this story: BiE’s luckiest break of 2011, perhaps. Unfortunately, the Zaza thing never worked out, but the results vis-à-vis D-Will’s performance there certainly were nice.

6. Yi gods! Jianlian throws it down over Barac, Croatia. Team China didn’t have much to celebrate vis-à-vis their participation in the London Invitational Tournament in August – even losing to theretofore winless Britain – but at least Yi made the highlight reel in his team’s 30-point blowout loss to Croatia.

7. Ricky Rubio: An object of faith. Let’s face it: Even the most ardent worshippers in the Church of Rubio noted that on the offensive end at very least, Ricky’s 2010-11 was not at all impressive. Seeing a downturn in essentially every statistical category, muttering from the US (with an epicenter in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where Minnesota Timberwolves fans were probably greater each other with “Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!” in lieu of “Hello”) wondered about Rubio’s lost jump shot – or if he’d even had one in the first place. He seemed to be improving on defense both in Euroleague and ACB play, but it didn’t take keen observation to note that the second place finisher for 2010 EL defensive MVP honors was nowhere near the finalists the following season.

In March, with FC Barcelona’s bouncing from the Euroleague’s elite eight round and Rubio’s ho-hum Eurobasket play still ahead, BiE wrote: “It’s as though Rubio becomes an object of faith, a representation of European basketball itself as the single most exciting product to come out of The Continent since at least Dirk Nowitzki. Can this wunderkind baffle with his ball-handling in America? To say ‘yes’ is to meet with derision and charges that the viewpoint’s holder underestimates one-on-one defense in the NBA; to say ‘no’ is seemingly to continue denying that top European players are among the tops on the planet.

Now? Heck, BiE wonders if maybe Rubio’s off-year was all about daydreaming of playing in the NBA the whole time. The Spaniard’s play for the Minnesota Timberwolves early on has exceeded expectations.

BiE’s closer on this piece went as follows: “Opinion: Rubio may be slightly overrated (representing a change from the traditional BiE stand, which was heavily involved in helping overrate him – though he did have a great season in 2009-10, gotta admit). On the other hand, perhaps he’s having an off year.

“BallinEurope will choose to believe the latter for now. And before the vitriol rises and the mad keyboard punching begins, BiE will paraphrase Soren Kierkegaard with the closer, “The existence of Rubio’s superhuman talent is founded in our minds not on the basis of logic or reason, but purely on faith.”

Good news, then, devotees, our faith would seem to be getting rewarded.

8. Highlights: Deron Williams in “all-star mode,” goes for 31 points in Eurochallenge win; Besiktas now 7-0. After drawing a bit of criticism for his early play with Beşiktaş, D-Will soon heated up, producing this eye-opening gem against Armia in mid-November. And by the time this guy was scoring 50 a week-and-a-half later, we were already taking performances like this one for granted.

9. Live blogging EuroBasket 2011: Turkey vs. Lithuania (a.k.a. the big match). After what were basically warmup matches for the home team, Team Lithuania finally got a true test in Eurobasket game three with Turkey the opposition. And wow, this game didn’t disappoint with awesome up-tempo play, a controversial flagrant foul call with less than 1½ minutes to play, and a packed house that brought the noise throughout.

10. Return of the Bulldog: Adam Morrison goes for 30 against Union Olimpija. Who knew Morrison was so popular? The former Gonzaga Bulldog became one of the feel-good stories of 2011 in the resurrection of his career with Red Star Belgrade. Folks back ‘Stateside truly began to sit up and take notice after this aggressive 12-of-18 barrage in Adriatic League play. After experiencing a slump in the last two games (going for a combined 3-of-16 overall shooting), Morrison’s Adriatic League averages for 2011 read 15.5 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.

11. Hey, who wouldn’t want to be like Dirk? Well, in 2011, who? And a happy 2012 to all!

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