Can Montepaschi still improve? That’s the question many fans and even Euroleague 2007-2008 Executive of the Year winner Ferdinando Minucci put to the team. It’s easy to talk about windows of opportunity, but never has it been so appropriate, as Montepaschi looks at perhaps its final opportunity to get to the top of Euroleague. In 2008, the team arrived in the Final Four and was eliminated by a controversial refereeing against Maccabi Tel Aviv; last year, only eventual champions Panathinaikos Athens prevented Terrell McIntyre‘s bunch from returning to the Final Four.
This year, the cast of characters is nearly the same, because coach Simone Pianigiani (currently wanted to serve as Italian national team coach) could count on McIntyre to Ksistof Lavrinovic agreeing with Siena instead of taking huge offers from Olympiacos and Real Madrid. Pianigiani also compensated himself for the loss of Rimas Kaukenas with newcomer David Hawkins, a Euroleague virgin likely to become part of the rotation rather than the “Hey, pass the ball to David!” player more representative of less-organized teams like Roma and Milano.
At the same time, Nikos Zisis is the present and future of Montepaschi: Zisis could win every title he wanted in Moscow, but his role wasn’t fundamental. By practicing against J.R. Holden and some of today’s best performers in Europe, Zisis has surely improved, but he needs to stay on court to show he is really worthy of Theodoros Papaloukas’ legacy for Team Greece at point guard. Zisis fills Montepaschi’s gaps defensively: He can guard three types of players, leaving Henry Domercant and Hawkins to think more about offense, and Zisis’ feel for the game is beyond reproach, a quality his precursor Morris Finley didn’t have.
Romain Sato enjoys a reputation still increasing year by year, as a shooter, defender, and team-oriented player, but that is clearly his last season with Siena, a team which can’t equal the proposal just arrived this summer from Barcelona.
The rest of team is full of men who know the Euroleague’s secrets and keys; they understand that this could well be the last chance they have to enter European basketball history. Next year, some of them will be replaced for reasons of age or new rules (Minucci will have to choose only one naturalized player, a choice between Benjamin Eze and Shaun Stonerook), and the cycle would restart with new faces and (maybe) some investment by Montepaschi sponsors.
A good result? I’m not saying a Euroleague title, but a Final Four finish would be enough to see another edition of Siena at the elite level. Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, Real Madrid and Barcelona all have better rosters than Montepaschi, but if we consider the group, the team strength, we can’t underestimate Siena and its proud, determined heroes. McIntyre actually named his daughter “Siena”: Could he stand to leave the city without the Euroleague trophy?
— written by Francesco Cappelletti