Happy Opening Day, Euroleague devotees! Though no one has yet devised a way to read tomorrow’s newspaper, here are some talking points sure to be addressed in coverage of tonight’s Maccabi Electra-Union Olimpija opener in Tel Aviv.
• The new-look Maccabi. Yes, several Euroleague teams experienced roster shakeups in offseason 2009, but fewer made as dramatic a shift as the Tel Aviv team. Gone are Carlos Arroyo, Omri Casspi, Lior Eliyahu and loaner Marcus Brown, potentially taking along with them the high-scoring finesse game with which Tel Aviv has been so successful this decade.
Incoming bodies include Maciej “Magic Lamp” Lampe and Stephane Lasme, who hope to re-shore up a team which led the Euroleague regular season in defensive rebounds in 2008-09. Though that squad was awesome inside, the emphasis in Tel Aviv will certainly be on the power game for 2009-10. Whether successful or not, it will be different; game one provides the first look (for must of us) at what new/old coach Pinhas Gershon has cooked up in Israel.
• Will either team be pushing the panic button early? After less-than-stellar performances in Euroleague on the part of both teams last season – Tel Aviv went 6-4 in the first round only to stumble to a 2-4 aggregate in the second, while Olimpija finished a dismal 2-8 to “earn” the “distinction” of worst 2008-09 team to gain a reinvite to the 2009-10 edition – both Maccabi and Olimpija fans are expecting bigger things this season, to be sure.
Tel Aviv backers might be willing to give returning hero Gershon a bit of slack (say, a good season-and-a-half), but a couple of bad losses will certainly start the grumbling in Israel. The Union Olimpija crew can always rest on the laurels of Team Slovenia’s stunning performance in Eurobasket 2009 and can lazily expect another Slovenian triple crown for their team, but an 0-2 start in Group C is a mighty big (and disappointing) hole to dig one’s self into.
• The return of Uros Slokar. The Slokar story has “local boy makes good” written all over it. Long a force in national team ball, Slokar is set for a career year in his triumphant (?) return to Euroleague and Slovenian professional basketball after years spent in Serie A, NBA and Russian Super League ball. The 26-year-old has already proven a lucky charm of sorts, having signed with his hometeam about one week before Olimpija once again took the Slovenian Super Cup tournament. Slokar will presumably be flexing the old basketball muscles with his new team as a starter tonight. This could be the beginning of a unique Euroleague individual season, indeed.
• Attendance. Surely Tel Aviv will pack the house tonight and for every Euroleague game, but after seeing the devastation wrought on sports attendance in America’s ballparks this summer, one can’t help but wonder if Euroleague attendance dips for 2009-10, particular once mathematical elimination starts setting in for some teams around games five or six. Two things seem sure about ticket sales this season: 1) Domestic leagues will be done, and 2) commentators and pundits will be noting this dropoff throughout the season.
A prediction? All righty. Never one to shy away from the bold prognostication, BallinEurope.com hereby forecasts Olimpija to pull off the single-basket upset.
Enjoy the game, everyone!