Fenerbahce are looking to secure a second straight Euroleague title in Belgrade while Serbian native Zeljko Obradovic is hoping to both claim his first title in his homeland and 10th in his career. Emmet Ryan on La Zocima
It was the job where if anyone was going to make it work, Zoc surely would. Zeljko Obradovic wasn’t the first coach with serious credentials to take over at Fenerbahce but it was a tough job for anyone to walk into.
Bogdan Tanjević managed one trip to the quarter final playoffs in his spell. Simone Piangiani came fresh from Siena, where he’d dominated Italy and made a run to the Euroleague Final Four, but was gone in a season. Neven Spahija’s noted ability to be able to deal with madness around him was irrelevant as he was soon gone.
This was as double-edged a sword as it got in European basketball. On the one side there were the resources a coach craves to build a contender. One the other, the expectation that you will make it work. Fenerbahce demanded to be more than just the best in Turkey. To succeed there a side that had never made a final four demanded victory in Europe’s top competition.
Along came Zoc, after a season off following his wildly successful tenure at Panathinaikos he was tasked with getting Fenerbahce its permanent seat at the top table. The first season was all too familiar as it didn’t take long during the Top 16 campaign for it to be clear that would be Fener’s peak that season.
One down year, admittedly a down year where he won a Turkish championship, was all he needed. The following three seasons saw three straight trips to the Final Four. Routed by Real on their maiden voyage in Madrid, they made the next step in Berlin before going down to CSKA Moscow in the decider, before finally lifting the crown last May in Istanbul.
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With that development came the tightening of Fener’s grip on the domestic scene in Turkey. They came back from Madrid flattened and were taken down by Pinar Karsiyaka in the semi-finals. A year later, the star of that Karisyaka side was helping them reclaim the BSL title and their run to last season’s European and Turkish double saw them remain unbeaten at all levels from the end of March through season’s end, eventually suffering their first competitive loss in over half a year at Malaga in October.
That’s the monster Obradovic has built at Fenerbahce. This side doesn’t have the same obvious NBA talent that his championship team from a year ago had but it has an awful lot of guys who are peak European level ballers which looks an awful lot like the type of dynasty he built with PAO.
The road to 10 titles began when Zoc was still supposed to be a player and had somewhat darker hair. On the latter, Obradovic has over two decades on me and I can still empathise. Obradovic’s move into full-time coaching came while he was planning on still lining out with the Yugoslavia national side. Instead, at just 31, he got the gig as Partizan’s coach. By the end of the season he had his first FIBA European League title, as it was known then. The length of Zoc’s run of success spans three different names of the crown, with it becoming FIBA Euroleague for his 2000 success with Panathinaikos, and just plain Euroleague (not counting sponsor names) for all the titles since.
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His titles coming across multiple clubs make him a rarity as it is. Partizan’s crown was followed by sucess with Joventut Badalona in 1994, Real Madrid in 1995, Panathinaikos in 2000, 2002, 2007, 2009, and 2011, before lifting the crown with Fenerbahce a year ago.
No other coach has won with more than three clubs, no other coach has more than four crowns leading a bench. His records are such that it’s near unthinkable they will be matched in his lifetime.
Yet there’s just something about getting to 10. With his victory last May, Obradovic tied Real Madrid’s haul of titles. Considering Los Blancos had 7 of those crowns before he started his playing career that’s not bad.
A direct comparison is silly but still there is such a natural narrative waiting. Obradovic going for his 10th title against Madrid in the final would bring the story back around in so many ways.
Not only did Zoc win a title with Real but it also completed the sole case of back-to-back championships in his career. He’s never been able to bring the same side to repeat glory in consecutive years. Now, he might be staring down an old stomping ground and long-time adversary in the quest to beat them to double-digits.
There’s a whole lot of history waiting to happen.
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