Podcast: Interview with Ricky Rubio; wrapping the 2012-13 Euroleague season, NIJT; reviewing The Wrestler

Taking the Charge podcast seriesEpisode #35 of the BallinEurope/heinnews co-produced “Talking the Charge” podcast series is now available online and is downloadable from iTunes – and o boy, it’s a good one.

Days after Olympiacos made European basketball history, we’re still amazed by another incredible run by the Reds and so discuss the context of this back-to-back title victory. Also up for discussion are reasons why Real Madrid and FC Barcelona should be proud and CSKA Moscow a bit ashamed. And what about that Red Army side? Will they blow up the team? What is the future of Ettore Messina, Milos Teodosic and Nenad Krstic with the club after a most disappointing Euroleague finish?

We also weigh in on the results and performances of the Nike International Junior Tournament, with particular reference to the finalists, champions Club Joventut Badalona and runners-up FC Barcelona – an extreme contrast in styles vis-à-vis club development within the economic realities of European sport in the 2010s.

Ricky Rubio WolvesOf course, this show’s highlight is the brief interview with none other than The Human YouTube Highlight Clip himself, Ricky Rubio. In remarkably succinct fashion, La Pistola weighs in on this year’s Euroleague Final Four, the past frustrating season with the Minnesota Timberwolves (and the importance of Nikola Pekovic) and the possibilities for Team Spain in the upcoming Eurobasket 2013 tournament.

Finally, our sports movie review of the week focuses on the 2008 film The Wrestler featuring Mickey Rourke in an outstanding tour de force career-comeback performance.

Check out the entire podcast here or to subscribe from this episode ad infinitum, enter into iTunes or any podcast aggregator.

Thanks for listening and talk to you next week!

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Nike International Junior Tournament: Day three roundup

(Marc Garcia image courtesy Euroleague)

Garcia: Again the top-scorer for Barca

Just over two hours remain before Spain’s Europe’s top youth teams face off in the Nike International Junior Tournament championship game, and so follows a recap of yesterday’s action which ultimately saw FC Barcelona and Joventut Badalona advance, as provided by Net Scouts. The shows that these teams put on in facing a variety of styles – particularly impressive was Joventut, who handled defensive-minded Lietuvos Rytas, shut down the often dominant Dusan Ristic and Crvena Zvezda/Red Star Belgrade, and kept pace with a hustling Team China – are a true testament to the quality of these youth programs…

Joventut Badalona had little trouble with China (1-2), forcing the Chinese into 25 turnovers which resulted in Joventut taking 22 more shots in the game. Joventut maintained a double-digit lead for much of the contest. 6’8” Jose Nogues led the winners with 21 points, shooting 8-of-13 on two-pointers. 6’4” Agusti Sans finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and eight assists while 6’5” Alberto Abalde scored 16 and hit three three-pointers. 6’5” Jinglong Li was the only player in double-figures for Team China with 14 points. Joventut came back from a two-point deficit at the end of the first quarter to score 25 in the second to take a ten-point halftime lead.

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On Hezonja, Todorovic plus a couple of Swedes: FC Barcelona’s future as bright as the present?

Barcelona’s future: Alex Abrines, Mario Hezonja, Marko Todorović

As though FC Barcelona’s red-hot play – they’re now at 14-4 overall after an 0-2 start in Spain – weren’t enough to keep European basketball devotees watching, here are two more reasons for you: Mario Hezonja and Marko Todorović.

At just 17 years old and despite missing the entire 2011-12 regular season, Hezonja finally got a taste of the action in Barça’s 78-48 laugher over Beşiktaş in Turkey last Friday night. His Euroleague debut stat line read five points, two rebounds and one steal in a few ticks under 12 minutes of play.

Hezonja again did not play in Spain this weekend, unlisted on the roster for Barca’s 81-64 win over Cajasol in Liga Endesa play; the 12th-man spot was filled by 20-year-old Todorović of Montenegro. In the Beşiktaş game, Todorović’s 12 minutes of court time was the most he’s gotten all season and the national teamer was good for four points, four rebounds and two blocks.

Potentially the nucleus of a shiny new Barca frontcourt? Continue Reading…


Twenty years ago today: Champions in Europe and USA, 1992

In celebration of certainly still the most significant year in international basketball history, BallinEurope today begins the “Twenty years ago today” series in which we’ll peer back in time through the lens of YouTube to that era of morphing European national teams and Dream Team dominance.

In the wake of that Greatest Basketball Team Ever Assembled, much of the 1991-92 professional seasons themselves get the short shrift in the history books, but some quite interesting stuff was nevertheless happening on the Continent.

• The Euroleague boasted a cliffhanging thriller in Partizan Belgrade vs. Joventut Badalona. Badalona brought Harold Pressley (with averages of 20.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per EL game) and Rafael Jofresa, while the Black-and-Whites boasted local products Predrag Danilovic and Aleksanda Djordjevic. It was the latter who’d deliver the European championship to the storied franchise for its first and, to date, last such title ever.

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Eclipse watching: All-time records under threat at Euroleague Final Four 2012

Siskauskas seeks title, free throws

For all the history/stat junkies out there – including myself, as BiE readers know – BallinEurope today takes a look at what all-time Euroleague Final Four records might fall this year … and some that seem unbreakable.

• Under assault could be the all-time free-throw mark of 56 held by Nikos Galis. Galis set this individual mark in just four games in the 1988 and 1990 tournaments with Aris BC and Panathinaikos, respectively, in performances that set all sorts of EL Final Four marks. However, Ramunas Siskauskas has amassed 45 over the years with PAO and CSKA Moscow; at an average of four trips to the FT line per game in 2011-12 Euroleague play, Siskauskas could squeak into the record books in 2012 – and he’s currently a bit better in accuracy than Galis was, at 78.6% to 74.6%.

• Now 34 years old and the senior member of a seriously veteran-laden Panathinaikos team, Mike Batiste doesn’t have too much time left to run up his numbers. While his 41 two-pointers are a far cry from Galis’ ridiculous 87, the Arizona State University alum could jump from his current no. 9 standing on the EL Final Four all-time two-pointer table to no. 4, passing Dejan Bodiroga with just six more buckets. After that, the targets would be no. 3 Theo Papaloukas’ 53 and no. 2 David Andersen’s 57.

• Batiste is also 17 rebounds behind Matjaz Smodis’ lifetime mark of 73; Viktor Khryapa may be destined to become no. 1 before all is said and done, with 54 to his credit already.

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Revealed: The EuroChallenge championship curse

(image courtesy Hurriyet Daily News)

Yes, but *should* they be celebrating?

Winning the EuroChallenge title is a good thing, right? After all, it’s typically the first Continental trophy to display on the mantelpiece and the champions label wins the club to right to play in the more prestigious (and more big-bucks) Eurocup competition the following season.

Well, Uygar Karaca may convince believers otherwise. In the first of a two-part series for, Karaca flips through the pages of recent EuroChallenge history to reveal the success – or lack thereof – championship clubs have experienced directly following a title bid. Hint: It’s pretty bleak stuff after 2004. Sorry, Beşiktaş

Winning a competition, especially on the Continental level, is a great achievement. However, titles come with a price. When success exposes players to the market, for example, clubs with better offers take the stars away. Alternatively, in order to get a trophy, clubs sometimes spend more than they can afford, which triggers the process of eventual financial collapse.

In this article, I tried to see whether winning the FIBA EuroChallenge tournament signals brighter days for the club or rather indicates a peak with the way forward pointing downward. Continue Reading…


BC Khimki Moscow region: In 15th anniversary year, on the verge of lucky three

In the leadup to the 2011-12 Eurocup Final Four tournament beginning on Saturday, Eurosport Turkey basketball commentator Uygar Karaca contributes a series of previews on the remaining quartet entitled “Four Teams, Four Stories” to BallinEurope.

Today, the final chapter of the series is devoted to BC Khimki Moscow region. With VTB United League and Russia Cup titles already in the club’s recent history, will they finally break through with a pan-European championship? Karaca seems to think so…

BC Khimki Moscow region is a relatively young club on the international basketball scene. However, they improved themselves quite rapidly: Coming from the same line of teams such as Avtador, Ural Great, UNICS and Lokomotiv Rostov which presented themselves as alternative powerhouses to CSKA Moscow, Khimki managed to earn a Russian Cup in 2008 and the VTB United League title in 2011. The missing trophy from the shelf is a pan-European prize. The team came close in 2006 against Joventut and in 2009 against Rytas with losses in the Eurocup finals both years. The hosts hope to be third-time lucky on their home court.

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Valencia’s oldest its newest as team signs 44-year-old Darryl Middleton

Middleton: Product of a different era

When Darryl Middleton was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, the NBA was ruled over by the likes of Larry, Magic and MJ, Sir Charles and Hakeem the Dream. Rookie of the year was Mark Jackson and the Detroit Pistons were ascending into dominance. Andrew Bynum was about nine months old; Blake Griffin and Brandon Jennings weren’t even born. Hell, Svetislav Pešić was coaching a youth team which included Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, Dino Radja and Saša Đorđević.

Yet the 44-year-old plays on … yesterday, Power Electronics Valencia announced the signing of Middleton to a two-month contract, enough to let him finish out the season with the Euroleague club and extend his ACB record for “oldest player to appear in a league game.” Middleton will certainly threaten, if not break, the Euroleague record for same when Valencia goes to Real Madrid next Tuesday night in the playoff round; Valencia plays at Fuenlabrada on Saturday.

Turning 45 in July, BallinEurope would also guess Middleton to be the single oldest player in a top-level basketball league in the world today … if anyone knows of some more elderly than this European mainstay, please inform.

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Dream Team Europe: The coaches

With an extended roster of 19 all-time players waiting in the wings, Ball in Europe today releases the names of the Dream Team Europe coaching staff. To manage this elite squad, we’ll limit Dream Team Europe to four coaches in spite of reader Simas’ excellent (if unwieldy) solution reckoning that “if you have a coaching staff as big as NBA teams have with 53 assistant coaches, you can just write all the European coaches that come to mind.”

Without further ado, then, presents the greatest basketball managerial quartet never assembled: The Dream Team Europe coaching staff!

Gomelsky with USSR hero Sergey Belov

Gomelsky with USSR hero Sergey Belov

To head things up, we’re going to take The Continent’s own Red Auerbach over its Phil Jackson – and make no bones about it: Alexander Gomelsky does belong in a conversation with Mr. Celtic and the Zen Master. After all, Gomelsky paralled Auerbach’s Boston Celtics’ ridiculous run of nine NBA championship titles between 1957-1967 with nine Soviet Union league titles for CSKA Moscow in the 1970s. (This after bagging five national titles and three straight European Cups with ASK Riga.) Plus, CSKA played in the Euroleague finals three times during this period and took it all in 1971.

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Weekend Joints – Part I

The best moment of the week
With less than a minute to go and Maccabi up by a double-digit margin over the multi-million team of Olympiacos, Nokia Arena became the place to be. 11,000 Maccabi fans started to sing from the bottom of their lungs to one of the players on the floor, but it wasn’t any of the players in yellow that had led their team to a huge victory many didn’t believe they could win. It was to a “Maccabi player” who was sitting on the opponent’s bench. Nikola Vujcic heard his former — and current — fans chant the song that followed him throughout his six magical seasons in Maccabi uniform.

Arroyo, Fischer and Brown got a lesson – it takes more than a few big wins to win the heart of the fans in Tel Aviv. Some players leave their team after several years and get a “traitor” label (as some Maccabi fans showed Yotam Halperin in the same game). Some get to redefine the beautiful relationship between fan and player.

Timing is everything
To have a successful season depends a lot not only on how many wins you get, but sometimes more on the timing of the wins. Alba kept their first road win for this week, and it was the one to make the difference. They lost at Olimpija, lost by 41 at Tau and dropped a home game to the Dusko gang, but the double-win over Joventut will make the difference. Alba beat the Catalonian club by 2 points in Berlin and by 4 in Spain: six points that made a whole difference for an entire season.

McElroy’s roller coaster
The MVP of the week comes from Alba, after Immanuel McElroy reached an index rating of 38 to help his team win at Joventut 79-75 to get very-very close to the Top 16. McElroy finished the game with 26 points, going 10-of-11 from the field, having a perfect night from the line, 3 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal and 5 drawn fouls. Other than that single miss, McElroy had a perfect game.

His second Euroleague season has seemed like a roller coaster, without too many ups and downs, just two big moves that makes your stomach itchy. On the road or at home, against strong or weak opponents, nothing had an influence on McElroy’s performance. He kicked off the season with two 20+ index rating games, next was a series of four average games in which he didn’t reach higher than an index rating of 9, and in the last three games he belongs to the top again making 21, 19 and finally 38 index performances.

Immanuel following Demond?
In the 2006/07 season, McElroy and Demond Mallet combined to form the backcourt of Rheinenergie Koln in the Euroleague. The later averaged 12.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg and 2.3 apg and the next season had already found a job in the ACB with Joventut Badalona, where he’s still playing. McElroy had 10.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg and 2.8 apg in that campaign, but finished one of the most bizarre seasons for a shooting guard in any league, when his three-point shooting for the entire season was 0-for-4, and to ice the cake added a poor 54.2% from the line.

So Mallet moved on, and McElroy stayed in Cologne. This season in Alba, Mallet is showing a different face, his numbers climbing to 13.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 2.4 apg, his free throws percentages climbing to 80%, and the big change arriving from long distance. This season the US guard is holding an average of a single three-pointer made per game and shooting 45%. This week against Joventut, he went 4-of-4 to help cheat the season averages, but considering his season total of only two years ago …  Still, the shot isn’t McElroy’s top weapon, but it should be enough for him to follow in the steps of Mallet and find himself with an ACB club sooner or later.

Last point from Badalona. The dispute over the Euroleague multi-year licences is still on, and in a way Badalona’s case is a perfect example for why to support that system.

Last season Joventut played in the ULEB Cup, and when they won that cup became ‘on paper’ the best team outside the Euroleague. In Joventut’s case, in fact, this wasn’t only on paper. That team was Euroleague quarterfinals material and with the right draw, let’s say against Barcelona, could have even played for the title in the Final Four.

That summer they lost Rudy, and since Joventut isn’t one of the richest clubs around they couldn’t replace such superstar with equally quality. The result is this season’s team’s likely elimination before the Top 16, while teams such as Alba Berlin and Fenerbahce Ulker — good teams, but nothing that could have matched last season’s Joventut — advance.

The inability of low-budget teams to maintain a good squad for more than one season, in order to maintain a high level in the long run, is the main reason why the top competition in Europe should have little space for clubs who can stay on top for a short time. The very few who can thanks to local talent, like Zalgiris and Partizan, are the exceptions.

Joventut is in the Euroleague fair and square. They deserve that spot because the Euroleague shouldn’t be a totally closed competition, as single-season bids are the chance for other clubs to gain experience and at some point join the elite group of steady clubs, but the idea to once again base the competition on the results of one single successful season will lower the level and open the door for more Joventuts.

Where we stand – Group A
The only group where all four Top 16 teams are not set, is also the last in which first place isn’t yet decided. Unicaja (7-2) needs a one-point win over Maccabi (6-3) to secure the top spot, but a Maccabi win will complicate things a bit. Olympiacos (6-3) hosts Le Mans and the earth will quake if the Greeks don’t win. With that in mind, Maccabi need to win in Malaga by more than 20 to finish first. Considering only reasonable results, Unicaja can finish 1-3, Olympiacos can finish 1-2, Maccabi 2-3 and Cibona (5-4) will be 4th.

Wrote you so!
After the sixth game of the season, when Le Mans repeated previous season results and after five close losses had suffered a huge defeat in week si, a joint entitled “Future telling” saw it all. Here’s the quote: “Last season the French wrote their first win only in Week 13, but that won’t happen this year, as their season will end, if they keep losing, after ten games. With matching to the new format, let’s say that just like last year the team of coach Jackson will escape from a win-free season one week before the end, at home against Air Avellino.”

Youngest ever?
Czech big guy Jan Vesely of Partizan is one of the most promising prospects in Europe. Those following the youth scene knew so even before this season, but Vesely has performed at a level very few young players manage to. This week, the Czech talent marched his team to a 23 point win over Panionios, a win that could be decisive in case of some Group D tie-breakers at the end of the games next week.

Vesely scored only 13 points and had achieved an index rating of 7 in the entire season coming into this game, but against Panionios had 19 points on 6-of-6 shooting inside the arc, 7-of-8 from the line and 10 rebounds on the way to an index of 24. No official record for this, but Vesely, still not quite 19 years old (born April 1990) is very likely the youngest player in Euroleague history to reach a double-double.

D-Spen takes the lead
The weekly battle goes in the direction of D-Spen who took this week 12-8 against Bluth, to take a 5-4 edge before the deciding week. For the first time this season the US-Israeli shooter started on the bench, and maybe that’s why Dewarick had his best performance of the season. Well, maybe not.

His 25 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 30 index rating game against Avellino took the “Best game of the season” title from Spencer’s previous game against … Avellino. Then he had 26 points and an index of 23. In the other seven games, he didn’t reach 20 points or index rating.

Where we stand – Group B
So Barcelona (8-1) is first, and so far hold the best record in the Euroleague. big kudos! Montepaschi (7-2) will most likely finish 2nd. Even if they somehow lose at Nancy, there’s a 27-point difference in favor of the Italians in the goal difference against Pao (6-3). The Greeks, then, will go third.

The last ticket so far sits in the pocket of Prokom. The Polish, Nancy and Zalgiris are all tied at 2-7. If all win or lose, Prokom has the tiebreaker advantage. Obviously if two teams lose and the third wins, the latter qualifies. Zalgiris holds the advantage in a tiebreaker over both Nancy and Prokom, but the Prokom’s 29-point win over Nancy in week 2 makes the difference in a three-way tie. These three will play against the top 3. Zalgiris will travel to Barcelona, Prokom will play in Athens and Nancy will be the only to enjoy the support of their local fans.

Trajan’s Ex
It’s no news some players tend to perform better against their former teams. Add to the list Trajan Langdon, who returned with CSKA to Abdi Ipekci and hit Efes hard. The Duke graduate went 7-of-10 from long distance, and with the entire Turkish side connecting just six times combined from three-point range, it stood out even more. Considering in the first leg Langdon went 5-of-7 against Efes, his total in both matches is a more than impressive 12 three balls at an over 70% rate.