We’ll be running a poll on this question next week, but please feel free to put forth suggestions in the “comments” section below this post. A few suggested guidelines: Since the winning choice will be immortalized (well, as immortalized as things can get online) in illustrated form, BiE asks that you consider only guys easily caricatured or are at least easily recognizable by the uniform.
After making a few kneejerk-reaction choices, BiE also consulted with this site’s contributing writers and a pilgrim father of BallinEurope. Below runs the tentative list of candidates thus far.
At 33 years of age, Šiškauskas put together a 16-season career with BC Sakalai Vilnius, Lietuvos Rytas, Benetton Treviso, Panathinaikos and CSKA Moscow plus seven years with Team Lithuania in FIBA and Olympic play – good for a gold and two bronzes.
European basketball fans know that history was made with Olympiacos’ stunning victory in the 2012 Euroleague championship. And so BallinEurope contributor, the self-proclaimed hoops history junkie Uygar Karaca looks back with perspective on the title bid, reaching all the back to the Great Depression of 1929 through the collapse of the Soviet Union and into today’s European Union crises. Whether or not God Himself played a role, the importance of the Reds’ win, as Karaca sees it, is history repeating itself. Gloriously.
This is how things have worked throughout history: From crises emerge heroes. And heroes create the losers. Sometimes underdogs have more advantages simply because they have nothing to lose. It’s not unusual that we see situations like a 10-man football team winning against a stronger side. Sometimes having options confuses minds, creates problems in concentration and ambiguity in methodology. Those who have no real options perhaps have just one way and they become focused on the goal, which brings about greater optimization and efficiency.
I was thinking like this before the match: “If CSKA wins, there will be not many stories but in case of Olympiacos winning, there will be a variety of options in exposing the classical underdog story with many different perspectives. I hope Olympiacos wins.”
The day before the Euroleague final, I was at Abdi İpekci Hall to see some action in the Nike International Junior Tournament. There I saw Stevislav Pesic, also one of the greatest coaches in European basketball, the man who famously brought a European title to both Germany and Alba Berlin, who were real underdogs. I thought that it would be a great idea to take some predictions from him. Said Pesic: “I was not suprised when Olympiakos won against Barcelona, because Barcelona changed its game this year and were somewhat inconsistent throughout the season, whereas Olympiakos improved much compared to the beginning of the season.”
BallinEurope bets that Dimitris Diamantidis didn’t sleep too well last night. In handling the ball of the final play in Panathinaikos’ 66-64 Euroleague Final Four loss to CSKA Moscow yesterday, former MVP DD was stifled by the Red Army defense and poor PAO fans could only watch time run out on the Greens’ back-to-back title bid.
Diamantidis also inadvertently helped redeem his CSKA counterpart, Milos Teodosic, an 88-plus percent free-throw shooter who could’ve iced the game with nine seconds remaining but missed both – and this after referees missed a couple of borderline dragging-the-pivot-foot travels as well.
No matter, though. What everyone tweeted about immediately – and DD is surely contemplating today is what exactly happened on that last Panathinaikos possession. To check out how it unfolded, start at about 3:17 in the video below.
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.
Congratulations go out from BallinEurope to the 2011-12 VTB United League champions – to the surprise of few, CSKA Moscow.
The Red Army’s 74-62 victory over Unics Kazan in a rematch of last year’s final represents not only its second VTB championship in three seasons of the league’s existence, but the first title in a potentially history-making triple crown. CSKA are big favorites to take the Euroleague title (one sportsbook with typical lines had Moscow at 3/4 odds and second-best FC Barcelona at 13/5) and are *serious* favorites (would you believe odds of 1/28?) in the PBL finals against BC Khimki after going 17-1 in the 2011-12 regular season.
In previous VTB championship-winning seasons, CSKA has managed to herd up an impressive lot of trophies: In 2008-09, the Russian league champs were nipped by Panathinaikos in the Euroleague finals and finished a disappointing third in the Russian Cup tournament after taking the VTB United League Promo Cup. In 2009-10, CSKA enjoyed three titles – a triple crown of sorts – in winning the Russian league and cups along with the VTB title; the Red Army finished third in the EL that year.
Also adding to his CV over the course of the VTB final four tournament was Andrei Kirilenko, who was named tourney MVP.
BallinEurope is not exactly sure what led our man in Lithuania, the enigmatic Y., to contemplate the fortunes of his country’s national team … but who are we to question a Lietuva hometowner when it comes to basketball? Y. goes back eight years to figure out where things went so terribly wrong and unfortunately finds little hope for Team Lithuania’s future – even with the likes of Jonas Valančiūnas and Donatas Motiejūnas aboard…
Underachievement of a previous generation
The 2004 Olympic Games were a huge disappointment for Lithuania. As EuroBasket 2003 champions, the team was one of main favourites for silver (the fall of the “Dream Team” was still unimaginable). Lithuania, however, that year finished fourth: one step short of the prize it had collected in every Olympiad since the country’s independence.
This was the beginning of the demise of what was a top national team in the world. Players’ refusal to participate, retirements, injuries and an underachieving new generation – all these aspects contributed to Lithuania’s fall from basketball superpower levels to status as a regional great, capable of reaching a medal stage in the right circumstances.
BallinEurope is changing – but only slightly. After a long period of static design and linkage, BiE finally managed to find some time to add a few tweaks that will hopefully augment the whole reader-experience, social-networking thing.
First, a bit of sad news for some. The image-based logo featuring cartoon Ramunas Siskauskas tipping off against the guy we’ve informally called “Pau”, created back in 2008 by Matt Dyck, will most likely be retired from prominent use on the BallinEurope website. This has less to do with a tobacco-puffing European feeling outdated – Hey, when a country like Hungary bans public smoking, you know the Continent is seriously ciggie-free, this writer excepted – but more to do with the pragmatic issue of download times. This site’s technical consultant (BiE thinks of him as “Merlin the magician”) suggests that loading BallinEurope pages would become noticeably faster with what is, unfortunately, a rather “heavy” background.
It seems like forever, but Euroleague 2011-12 resurrects itself for Top 16 opening night tonight. What better way to celebrate, reckons BallinEurope, than with some good ol’ power rankings?
Once again, the caveat emptor-ish bit: These ratings are formulated from once source (namely yours truly) and are based on the way teams are trending at present. While play in other leagues was considered, emphasis was put on performance in the latter bits of the EL season.
To the rankings!
Top dogs 1. CSKA Moscow (10-0 in Euroleague regular season; 8-1 in VTB United League, 7-1 in PBL) – Remember the date December 10, 2011: That’s the last time the scary Red Army lost, in falling to BC Khimki in Russia while getting just seven minutes out of Andrei Kirilenko. The Red Army’s only loss before that was exactly one month prior when they fell in a squeaker at Spartak St. Petersburg in their VTB opener. Considering the starting team alone – an all-star squad of Kirilenko, Milos Teodosic, Nenad Krstic, Ramunas Siskauskas, Viktor Khryapa – BiE has to wonder what non-NBA team could beat ‘em. Even after the star power, the CSKA Moscow bench contributed 43.2 points per game in Euroleague play while the team leads in overall performance rating, assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. This has got to be considered the team to beat in 2012.
As a sportswriter in 2011, it’s getting ever less bizarre to type the words “Andrei Kirilenko of CSKA Moscow” all the time; certainly this team’s fans want the NBA lockout never to end as AK-47 is leading an impressively outfitted Red Army through early Euroleague and PBL dominance.
Kirilenko was rewarded for his individual brilliance through two EL games by taking the first Player of the Month award of 2011-12. The locked-out Utah Jazzman has been good for per-game averages of 14.5 points on 62.5% shooting, 9.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.5 blocks. Notes the league’s official site: “The 30-year-old Kirilenko leads the 2011-12 Euroleague in performance index rating average (30), rebounding and blocks, and is also tied for fifth place in assists.”