BallinEurope’s favorite European domestic-league champion this season? It’s gotta be JSF Nanterre, yesterday’s crowning of whom as French LNB kings has surely guaranteed who will be the underdog of all underdogs for the 2013-14 Euroleague season.
Backing into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak to squeak in by dint of tiebreaker with a regular-season record of 15-15, Nanterre proceeded to 7-1 in the tournament, sweeping top seeds Gravelines Dunkerque and defending champions Elan Chalon before winning a concluding game four in the best-of-five championship series against Strasbourg, 83-77.
In yesterday’s final match, Ohio State alum David Lighty again led the way for Nanterre, with this third 20-plus point game of the playoffs, notching 21 to top-score for the upstarts – but perhaps the most kudos should go to coach Pascal Donadieu, who faced Team France/Strasbourg’s Vincent Collet with the pragmatic attitude that got his team through the playoffs: “Against Gravelines, [the game plan] was to neutralize [Dwight] Buycks. Against Chalon, [Blake] Schilb; and against Strasbourg, [Alexis] Ajinça.”
Indeed, in game four, Ajinça’s influence was limited to just 12 points and six rebounds, both below his season averages.
And now, onto the Euroleague, n’est-ce pas?
Either 13 or 14 teams (depending on what Euroleague officials due with Asseco Prokom Gydnia, now in danger of losing its position) will be given “A” licenses and therefore automatic entry into the big league for the 2013-14 seasons; in the concomitant ranking scheme, the LNB champion is now in the no. 2 or 3 spot (depending on the Italian league championship series outcome) and thus Nanterre will be rewarded with a place should they accept.
Though the stated goal since Jean Donadieu took over as president in 1987 is to compete in Euroleague, BiE wonders what the club will do about the small seating capacity of its Palais des Sports (reportedly 1,954); as of this season, Euroleague clubs awarded a “B” must play in arenas that hold a minimum attendance of 5,000.
To put things into perspective, just two seasons ago Nanterre was promoted to France’s top division by taking the 2011 title in the Pro B league and the club has never participated in pan-European competition. In 2004-05, while Strasbourg was on the way to winning the LNB title and thus securing its first- (and, to date, last-) ever Euroleague bid, Nanterre was playing its first season in Pro B ball – and as recently as 2008-09, the team posted a losing regular-season record and missed the second division’s playoff round.
Who knows if such success will be permanent (or even beneficial in the medium-term) for Nanterre…? In any case, should the French club be playing in Euroleague ball for 2013-14 – though let’s be realistic and just say 2013 – BiE’ll be rooting for these underdogs.