Evin Demirel, from theglobalhook.blogspot.com, who worked with the Turkish National Team as a website translator in 2007, is our expert for Efes Pilsen this year. Evin has been a faithful reader from day one and has brought in some very interesting insights to BallinEurope.
Overall record prediction: 6-4
It’s not so much a Turkish takeover as an Anatolian reclamation project. Last year, Efes Pilsen, the face of Turkish basketball for the last two decades, attempted to reclaim its spot as Turkey’s premier pro team with a red, white and blue injection. Six Americans hit the hardwood for the team last fall. But, for a variety of reasons, they didn’t mesh well with the man who strode the sidelines, American coach David Blatt. The season ended in flames, as Efes failed to make the Turkish league finals for the first time since 1995. It also lost its last five games in the Euroleague’s Top 16 playoffs. So the team toned down the American blue and amped up the Turkish red and white.
This fall, six Turks take the floor for the team, and the man at the helm – coach Engin Ataman – happens to be the last, and only, coach to lead Efes Pilsen to a Euroleague Final Four. Eight years later, he takes over a team brimming with size, experience, and talent – a winning cocktail if ever there was one. Turks Kaya Peker and Kerem Gonlum bolster a front line starring Croat Mario Kasun, two years removed from employing his athletic frame with the Orlando Magic, and Greek Michalis Kakiouzis, a solid, if unspectacular, skillful center. Kakiouzis played on the Ataman-led Montepaschi Siena squad that took 3rd in the Euroleague in 2004.
Sharp-shooting Serbian Milos Vujanic, although plagued with knee injuries, still brings an impressive resume to Istanbul. He led the Euroleague in scoring five years ago. Efes fanatics will see a familiar face – the team’s prodigal son of sorts – the unquestionably talented, but still erratic swingman Cenk Aykol. If Aykol – who left the team after more than three years last December due to a spat with Blatt – can develop dervish-esque defense to accompany his smooth stroke, he will greatly strengthen Efes’ guard play.
Steady point man Ender Arslan enters his eight season with the team while Engin Atsur returns to the team after seven years. The solidly-built, defensive-minded guard looks to jump-start his career after a disappointing season at Benetton Treviso. Americans will once more play a vital role in this team’s fortunes, despite last year’s woes.
Look for veteran shooting guard Charles Smith to fill up the basket again as he did two years ago for Efes, when he averaged 12.2 ppg in the Turkish League. Flanking him is Bootsy Thornton, who helped Montespachi Siena to the Euroleague Final Four last year en route winning second-team All-League honors. On the wings waits Preston Shumpert, who scorched the nets to the tune of 17.7 ppg last year for rival Beşiktaş Cola Turka.
With eight new players this season – some new, and some old – Efes Pilsen hopes to once more find a winning formula under a hand that has mixed it before.
Final Four participants: FC Barcelona, DKV Joventut, Olympiacos , CSKA Moscow
written by Evin Demirel