In the runup to today’s FIBA Eurochallenge final between BC Göttingen and Krasnye Krylia Samara, certain themes are repeated to well-worn across The Continent. For example, there’s the “who’da thunk it” storyline, particularly on the Russian side as the Samara Red Wings threw together a slapdash roster for 2009-10 to amazing results.
The “clash of opposing styles” theme is also getting metric tonnes of play in newsprint, with the running-gunning unstoppable Violet force about to run into the tournament’s top D, a clamping down Red wall dominated by twin-towered big men. Finally, since an appearance in the EuroChallenge finals guarantees each team a spot in the 2010-11 Eurocup competition, both sides are celebrating this step up in pecking order as their team’s greatest success this season.
A win tonight, however, would produce utterly different consequences for each side. You see, the hard-working Samara squad really wants this win, but Göttingen may *need* it to secure the medium-term future of the club.
After an up-and-down season in Göttingen (the team managed to grab the no. 2 seed for the upcoming Bundesliga playoffs, but was a disaster in the BBL Cup), the Violets’ economic future “does not look so rosy financially.”
Without the sponsorship of MEG, the already small-market club – or “Cinderella story,” if you prefer – is reportedly floundering a bit under the financial strain of an elongated season, and management is reduced to luring players with the promise of sponsorship deals and such. It is thought that, with Göttingen’s position in the Eurocup assured, a Eurochallenge title would virtually guarantee a high-level sponsor for the club. (Winning the Bundesliga would probably help quite a lot, too, BiE postulates.)
As hosts for the games, Göttingen enters the Eurochallenge final as the heavy favorite – BallinEurope.com sponsor Bet 365 is giving Krasnye Krylia a plus-5.5 handicap in points – and perhaps rightfully so. The Violets pulled off one of Europe’s baddest comebacks in 2009-10 by fighting back from a 37-17 start and a 41-28 halftime deficit to convincingly defeat the favored Roanne Basket, 77-67, in the final four.
In that game, 2009-10 Bundesliga Newcomer of the Year Taylor Rochestie put in a ridiculous 27 points while running the second-half track meet for Göttingen. And whenever Rochestie missed, the likes of Chris Oliver, Christopher McNaughton and Robert Kulawick dominated the French side on the offensive glass.
All in all, the effect was enough that Roanne coach Jean Denys Choulet noted with a bitter tone that his side had “played against a good American team.” (This view is echoed by sportswriter Stefano Valenti of Italy-based Superbasket, who says Göttingen coach John Patrick has molded his team of eight Yankees and four nons into “an American-style team.”)
Unfortunately, the reality dictates that this flashy, European answer to the Phoenix Suns gets paid.
On the other side of the court is Krasnye Krylia Samara, a team already proud of its achievements in 2009-10. “Who would have thought,” rhetorically begins this Russia-based news story, “before the season started that the newly-assembled Red Wings in their first attempt would not only successfully perform in the European arena, but also break through to the finals of the third most important tournament, the EuroChallenge?”
And that’s, as they say, not all! In addition to finishing eighth back home in Russia and thus earning a Russian League playoff spot (and the right to face CSKA Moscow in the first round; lucky them), Samara went 12-3 overall in EuroChallenge, with most wins quite convincing. After forcing KK Zagreb to play their game in the semis and eking out a pair of tight wins, the Red Wings then went on to overcome Scavolini Scar Pesaro – one of the three Challenge teams that had beaten Samara this season – in the final four.
Though Samara enters the EuroChallenge final with the necessary confidence, Göttingen showed that the Violet’s running-gunning method is well capable of breaking down the Red Wings’ cool-as-thou, patient halfcourt offense led by J.R. Bremer.
(On a tangent, many ‘Stateside Los Angeles Lakers fans disturbingly desperately have asked BiE about European-playing point guards who could run the triangle … so, ah, is the 30-year-old Bremer too aged, oh great Buss Family? End of digression.)
In the afterglow of the 73-70 victory over Pesaro, Samara head coach Mikhail “Geppetto” Mikhailov was apparently caught up in his miraculous construction even to proclaim that “The Red Wings have proven to be a real team!”
Indeed they have.
The 2009-10 FIBA Eurochallenge tips off today at 2pm GMT/4pm CET. The third-place game featuring Scavolini Spar Pesaro against Roanne Basket starts at 11am GMT/1pm CET. Both games may be watched live (and presumably later on tape) over at FIBATV.com; registration is required but is free).