As BallinEurope closes the book on the 2009-10 basketball season, it’s time to take stock of the year that was with the clarity of history. Without further ado, let’s retrospect on the top 10 Eurocentric basketball stories of the season.
10. Brandon Jennings and his Elaphitophobia-inducing bunch. The Brandon Jennings Experiment, i.e. foregoing university to play a season in Europe and increase one’s draft stock, was proclaimed an overwhelming success by November. All B.J. did after that was help his Milwaukee Bucks see far, far greater success than anyone deemed possible. Who knew one year of coming off the bench as eighth man in Italy would benefit so much? And why didn’t the Bucks get 1/10th the hype in the playoffs the Oklahoma City Thunder did? Fear the Deer!
9. The continued development of Ricky Rubio. In Spain, Rubio was named starting point guard on the ACB Quinteto Ideal, finished second in the voting for Euroleague Best Defender, and somehow took the “Euroleague Rising Star” trophy. At 19 years old, though, the Human YouTube Clip showed his greenness in the Euroleague championship game and the first couple of ACB championship games. Yes, Rubio was often underwhelming in the clutch, but can’t the same be said of, say, Lebron James?
8. Hapoel Gilboa Galil Elyon takes Israeli League title. Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon once told the media that the Ligat HaAl “semifinal system was set up to thwart” his perpetual championship franchise. This year, the end result proved Gershon prophetic, as Jeremy Pargo led unheralded Gilboa/Galil to its first-ever league championship – and Maccabi’s second loss in the final game in three years.
7. Chaos reigns in EΣAKE final, Olympiacos forfeits. BiE’s still trying to figure out what exactly happened in Greece. After game three, Reds management went into a tizzy about the refereeing to post a public announcement spewing forth invective. Stirred up for game four, Olympiacos fans twice halted play, the final time for good with less than a minute to play and their team down six. And once again, Panathinaikos wins a big one while the high-paid Reds stand about and watch – as the Greens run for their lives.
6. The magical Euroleague seasons of CSKA Moscow and Partizan Belgrade. Almost as surreal as the prospect of calling the Red Army an underdog at the beginning of the season was the incredible season turned in by Partizan. The Black-and-White lost several players from the 2008-09 Cinderella squad, going from youngest team in the league to, um, still the youngest team in the league. While CSKA was buoyed by experienced and awesome D led by Euroleague Defender of the Year Viktor Khyrapa, Partizan emphasized the offensive attack led by the shocking Bo McCalebb – Where has this guy been? – and the usual brilliant coaching by Duško Vujošević. Tell you what: neither of these sides will surprise anyone in 2010-11.
5. The flameout of Jeremy Tyler. Whatever trendsetting Jennings may have accomplished was surely undone by the 17-year-old San Diego baller who forewent his senior year of high school to go pro in Israel. Criticized by coaches and teammates, slammed in the New York Times and sent packing early, Tyler’s season was an unequivocal failure; will Tyler become the fastest “Whatever Happened To” story ever?
4. Mikhail Prokhorov takes over in New Jersey. Has any owner coming into the job ever gotten so much hype? Without making a single acquisition and doing little else than looking disappointed at the NBA Draft Lottery, American fans are in love with this guy. Of course, BiE supposes you should always be nice to a dude who leaves AK47s lying around. (And we’re not talking Andrei Kirilenko here.)
3. The Lithuanian League finals. An epic in insanity made for some fun basketball in the LKL. Perhaps solely due to the ennui caused by another Žalgiris Kaunas-Lietuvos Rytas championship series, Žalgiris owner Vladimir “I Am The Miracle” Romanov first joked about firing his head coach after game three, then went through with it. And then the assistant coach walked off the job. And then Romanov proclaimed guard Marcus Brown should serve as player-coach. Which Brown did, with surely more than a bit of trepidation. No matter: Through a combination of textbook defense and thrilling improvisational offense, headless Žalgiris managed to stretch things out to seven games before succumbing to their rivals.
2. Caja Laboral Baskonia upsets FC Barcelona – handily – in the ACB championship. While certain websites (ahem) wondered aloud about the position of 2009-10 Barça among the all-time elite European squads, Tiago Splitter and his Baskonia ‘mates apparently stayed off the internet altogether so as to not realize they didn’t have a chance in the Spanish League finals. Through a combination of a 10-day break for the Euroleague champs, a sudden inexplicable inability to guard the high pick-and-roll, and mostly too much Splitter, Baskonia finished their blazing-hot second half of the season by denying Barcelona a quadruple crown season. “The ACB: ¡Donde el increíble sucede!”
1. Partizan Belgrade 75, Cibona Zagreb 74. What can happen in 0.6 seconds? You can lose the Adriatic League championship by celebrating prematurely. The lesson here, kiddies: You play until that final buzzer sounds.
Other notable stories from 2009-10: The Zydrunas Ilgauskas drama in Cleveland; top European players from Pau Gasol and Tony Parker on down drop out of 2010 FIBA World Championship; Ersan Ilyasova 2.0 and his rebooted NBA career; the … *interesting* selection of Milos Teodosic as Euroleague MVP; the Phoenix Suns Unleash The Dragon in the playoffs, plus subsequent amusing on-court tussles with Sasha Vujacic; Hemofarm Stada forfeits Serbia Superleague championship to Partizan after ejection of 18 players in game two; Olympiacos’ ever-so-brief pre-season flirtation with Allen Iverson; FC Barcelona cruises through Euroleague season, playoffs.