With more new eyes than usual on the Euroleague Final Four, Emmet Ryan guides those tuning in through the various aspects to get you up to speed on what will happen in Belgrade over the weekend
Hello newcomers and, I’m guessing, some oldcomers who are wondering how we’re going to explain the Euroleague Final Four to people who have at best a passing knowledge of it. Many of the folk tuning are doing so for one reason, possible top draft pick Luka Doncic, but if you are going to enjoy the action it’s best to get an idea of everything else going on around the wunderkind.
Fenerbahce take on Zalgiris Kaunas in the first game followed by CSKA Moscow vs Real Madrid in the second. Most folk shorten each to Real (Ray-Al), CSKA (Cheshka is how I say it, this is wrong, Tss-S-Ka is more accurate but I really struggle with it), Fener, and Zalgiris. If you need trouble saying the last two as you see them, well even I can’t help.
CSKA are perennially in the Final Four, this is their seventh straight, but their only win in that span was in 2016. Real won it in 2015 while Fener are defending champions. Zalgiris are the Cinderella in the pack. The Lithuanian club last reached the big weekend in 1999, when they won it all, and nobody imagined they’d get here. This site picked Zalgiris to finish 14th of 16 teams while Eurohoops picked them to finish 15th. They have the second lowest budget in the whole league and are definitely the neutral’s choice.
Names worth noting
With this I’ve gone for dudes of varying degrees of importance to their sides but any player I’ve left out is still going to be annoyed that I did.
Luka Doncic – Duh
Sergio Llull – Back from a loooong layoff, an absolute firecracker to watch.
Gustavo Ayon – Ex NBA, a non factor on D, offensively dominant, great passing big man.
Jaycee Carroll – The best three point shooting barista on the planet.
Fabien Causeur – Just plain good but also a regular star of Doncic’s IG stories.
Felipe Reyes – Always looks like a man just out of bed, has surprising grace, if Llull is the heart then King Felipe is the soul of this Madrid team.
Pablo Laso – Head coach, classic look is head down chin in chest when pondering the futility of humanity’s existence.
Nando de Colo – French ex NBA man who has kicked plenty of ass in Euroleague.
Sergio Rodriguez – Won a Euroleague with Madrid, two stints in the NBA, known as Chacho, oozes Chachismo.
Kyle Hines – No really, those are legs not tree trunks. The definition of an undersized big.
Andrey Vorontsevich – Uber effective three point shooting big man.
Cory Higgins – Will be referred to as under-rated and glue guy repeatedly during commentary, will put up good numbers that everyone notices openly.
Nikita Kurbanov – His defence is immense, he needs to be above par offensively.
Dimitris Itoudis – Head coach, irrespective of the situation his face is of a man annoyed his taxi is late but doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it.
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Bobby Dixon – Under-sized point guard with amazing self-belief. Also goes by Ali Muhammed.
Jan Vesely – The former Wizards man has never looked happier on a court than the past two seasons.
Kostas Sloukas – When things go wrong for Fener, they’ll look to him to put them right.
Marko Guduric – Took a while to get used to be being at a big club but has really come along in the second half of the season.
Luigi Datome – Everyone bar the broadcast commentators calls him Gigi. Well, I haven’t checked with his family but aside from that, definitely everyone.
Nicolo Melli – Perenially linked with moves to the NBA, equally effective inside and outside.
Nikola Kalinic – You will need to acquaint yourself with the phrase Big Game Kalinic.
Brad Wanamaker – Objectively good basketball player.
Zeljko Obradovic – Head coach, known as Zoc. Emotions range from the classic arms down and out palms front pose of disbelief to getting so read with rage that his head will explode. Despite this is capable of smiling.
Paulius Jankunas – Basically Vince Vaughn at the moment Chuck Norris gives the thumbs up in Dodgeball.
Edgaras Ulanovas – Is as good at basketball as he is bad at rapping.
Kevin Pangos – A man who is going to get paid so much money this summer and rightly so.
Brandon Davies – A man who will also get paid a lot of money this summer and will send a best friends card to Pangos once he does.
Beno Udrih – Yes, Beno’s here. Isn’t that lovely? And he gets minutes too.
Arturas Milaknis – Few men can have a face this calm that causes a coach such a range of emotion.
Sarunas Jasikevicius – Head coach, has a proper full range of emotion which shows how new he is to coaching. Has a genuinely ridiculous list of honours as a player, the hottest property in European coaching right now.
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Stuff to be aware of
While the games don’t start until Friday, it’s worth paying attention to the various media outlets covering it from Thursday evening Belgrade time as that’s when the final interviews from players and coaches before the games start will take place. There’ll be plenty of video and audio content coming from that.
The Stark Arena in Belgrade is going to look weird at times. As currently scheduled, and there’s really no reason to expect a change, the opening game will be Fenerbahce vs Zalgiris. The place will be packed for that as 90 per cent of the total fans present will be there for those two teams. It’s as the CSKA vs Real Madrid game wears on that things will get weird. The bulk of the crowd will likely be gone by the second half of that, irrespective of the score. That’s going to be an odd sight.
In terms of terminology, the only thing that jumps out as different is the word leader. It’s pretty much solely used in Europe, essentially to describe the dude who runs the show for any side, in lieu of superstar although it doesn’t quite mean that.
Get used to hearing this tune, a lot. It grows on you:
And no matter what, don’t watch the third place game. It’s just awful.
The questions around CSKA are going to be huge, as their season essentially begins and ends with this weekend. Kyle Hines and Nando de Colo both missed the playoffs to get here with injury and how fresh both are will matter a great deal.
The battle between the duo of de Colo and Rodriguez against Doncic and Llull is what everyone is waiting to see in the semi-final round. This is Doncic’s last chance to win a Euroleague title before making the jump to the NBA so the youngster is going to want to go out on a high. For Llull there’s also the matter of proving that he’s fully back from injury after missing most of the season including all of EuroBasket.
Fenerbahce are the favourites on the grounds of consistency and health. They don’t have the explosive game breaking presences of Ekpe Udoh or Bogdan Bogdanovic anymore but they’ve brought the most complete roster to the weekend. They now are going for the rare case of back to back titles, only achieved twice this century (Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2004 and 2005 and Olympiacos in 2012 and 2013).
With Zalgiris, it’s some straight up Cinderella stuff. They’ve done enough to put themselves 80 minutes away from the unthinkable. Their coach, Sarunas Jasikevicius, won a title under Fener coach Zeljko Obradovic at Panathinaikos in 2009 and all talk is of what miracles the Lithuanian legend needs to pull to do it all.
The Obradovic tree is worth noting here as well as, in addition to the Jasikevicius connection, CSKA coach Itoudis was his assistant at Panathinaikos and Real coach Laso played under him for Los Blancos.
How to watch
That’s probably the important one. The games will be streaming on Euroleague.tv (subscription required) although there will be some geoblocks in place. American viewers can watch the games on NBA TV and FloSports, British and Irish viewers can tune in on Eurosport, while the games are being streamed globally by Euroleague TV.
On Friday Fenerbahce vs Zalgiris tips at 6pm CET which is 5pm Irish/British time, 12 noon EST, and 9am PST. CSKA vs Real starts at 9pm CET, which is 8pm Irish/British ime, 3pm EST, and 12 noon PST.
The final tips at 8pm CET on Sunday, which is 7pm Irish/British time, 2pm EST, and 11am PST. I am not going to bother telling you when the third place game tips.
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