As we close in on the first games for the 2017 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four, we look at the players and clubs seeking to build legacies as well as the history that could be made and records that could fall in Istanbul.
Here we are, down to four teams, and four basketball games away from crowning a champion. This is the first time in the Final Four era that all four teams have met before the end-of-season event. This year's semifinals mirror the 2015 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four, which took place in Madrid, and in addition, all four teams have the same coaches on their respective benches and there are 23 players on the rosters this season who were also on the rosters of these four teams two years ago. That Friday in the Spanish capital, Olympiacos Piraeus beat CSKA Moscow before Real Madrid defeated Fenerbahce Istanbul; Madrid eventually beat Olympiacos for the title. However since then, CSKA and Fenerbahce have had more success in head-to-head matches. CSKA swept the season series against Olympiacos both last season and this season, with all four wins coming by 7 points or fewer. Fenerbahce has won five of seven games against Madrid since the 2015 semifinals, including last year’s playoff sweep, and the two sides split home victories in both this and last year’s regular seasons.
Diversity meets legacy
How hard is it to win the EuroLeague title? Well, the EuroLeague is so competitive that if Fenerbahce wins this weekend at Sinan Erdem Dome, it would become the seventh different team in eight years to be crowned champion. It is well documented that Fenerbahce has never lifted the EuroLeague trophy and is aiming to become the first-ever Turkish continental champion. The other three teams have previously won at least three titles each. Olympiacos will try to add to its back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013, which would guarantee the Reds the most EuroLeague titles this decade. CSKA is aiming to claim the first back-to-back EuroLeague crowns in its long and storied history, trying to join Olympiacos, Olimpia Milano (1987, 1988), KK Split (1989, 1990, 1991) and Maccabi Tel Aviv (2004, 2005) as the only teams to defend the EuroLeague title in the Final Four era. Meanwhile, Madrid is aiming for its 10th continental crown, which would be three more than its nearest pursuer, CSKA, which stands at seven titles coming into Istanbul.
Piling up the titles
In the history of the competition, dating back to 1958, only 11 players have won at least four continental titles. Now, former teammates Kyle Hines of CSKA Moscow and Vassilis Spanoulis of Olympiacos Piraeus each have the chance to become the 12th man to join that select group. They can become the only active players with four EuroLeague titles, too, having won together with Olympiacos in 2012 and 2013. Spanoulis also has the 2009 title with Panathinaikos to his name, while Hines lifted the EuroLeague crown with CSKA last May in Berlin. Hines also has a shot to become the second player in EuroLeague history to have won back-to-back titles on two different occasions with different teams. Dino Meneghin (with Varese 1972 and 1973, 1975 and 76 and with Olimpia Milan 1987 and 1988) was the first. Hines would become the first player or coach in the Final Four era to win back-to-back titles for the second time. Meneghin won a record seven titles, but his last title with Milan in 1988 was the first year of the Final Four format, and no one has done it since.
Zeljko Obradovic is gunning for his unprecedented ninth coaching title, and if he gets there, Fenerbahce would be the fifth different team with which he’s won after doing so with Partizan Belgrade (1992), Joventut Badalona (1994), Real Madrid (1995) and Panathinaikos Athens (2000, 2002, 2007, 2009, 2011). The closest behind him are four coaches with four EuroLeague titles: Pedro Ferrandiz (1965, 1967, 1968, 1974 Real Madrid), Alexander Gomelsky (1958, 1959, 1960 ASK Riga; 1971 CSKA), Bozidar Maljkovic (1989, 1990 Split; 1993 Limoges; 1996 Panathinaikos), and Ettore Messina (1998, 2001 Kinder Bologna; 2006, 2008 CSKA).
When talking about past titles and possibilities that future titles would mean, it gets easy to overlook the fact that just to get to the championship game, teams, players and coaches need to win their semifinal matchups first. And those are nearly impossible to predict. Just look at recent years and remember Madrid’s 38-point drubbing of archrival FC Barcelona at the 2014 Final Four, or Maccabi Tel Aviv’s shocker over heavily-favored CSKA that same evening. Or go back to 2013 and Olympiacos’ 17-point victory over CSKA. However, some individuals are yet to lose a Final Four semifinal game despite repeated appearances. Spanoulis is 4-0 in those games in his career, and so is Fenerbahce’s Kostas Sloukas. His teammate Pero Antic is 3-0 in the semifinal games, and both Sloukas and Antic are former teammates of Spanoulis. Madrid head coach Pablo Laso has won all three of his semifinal games as a coach as have his players, Rudy Fernandez and Jaycee Carroll.
Some extra kick to the semifinals
Emotions are always high during the Final Four, and if it is at all possible, it seems it will be just a notch higher for Kyle Hines than for any other player or coach. Not only does Hines have a chance to re-write history, but he is one of only two players at the Final Four who has previously played in the uniform of his semifinal opponent. Hines spent two seasons with Olympiacos from 2011 through 2013 and helped the Reds win back-to-back EuroLeague titles. He was a teammate there of four current Olympiacos players: Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou and Vangelis Mantzaris. The other player in that position is Hines’s current teammate Milos Teodosic, who spent four seasons with Olympiacos between 2007 and 2011. He won the 2010 EuroLeague MVP and helped the Reds to a pair of Final Four appearances alongside Spanoulis, Papanikolaou and Printezis. In addition to those two players, two of the four head coaches have been on the staff of the opposing teams in the past. Coach Obradovic led Madrid to the Euroleague title in 1995. That was the eighth continental crown for Madrid and the third as head coach for Obradovic. Olympiacos coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos was an assistant coach with CSKA Moscow during the 2011-12 season and helped guide CSKA to the championship game, which it lost to Olympiacos in this same Sinan Erdem Dome. Four current CSKA players remain from that squad: Teodosic, Nikita Kurbanov, Andrey Vorontsevich and Victor Khryapa. In addition to this being a repeat of the 2015 Final Four, it gives Friday night at Sinan Erdem Dome a little extra kick.
Moving up the ladder
Like every season, certain EuroLeague all-time records are likely to fall, or at least be threatened, at the Final Four. Victor Khryapa, who is set to appear at his record 11th Final Four, is the runaway Final Four leader in rebounding and needs just 3 more to become first player to reach 100 rebounds in Final Four games. Khryapa is in fifth place on the all-time Final Four charts with 43 assists, and Teodosic is sixth with 39. Former CSKA star J.R. Holden is sitting in fourth place with 45, and former MVP Dimitris Diamantidis of Panathinaikos and current Zalgiris Kaunas coach Sarunas Sarunas Jasikevicius are tied for second with 46 assists, while Theo Papaloukas leads the all-time Final Four charts with 59 assists. Madrid’s Sergio Llull is in 11th place with 31 assists, needing 1 more for a share of 10th place. Khryapa is also in second place in the all-time Final Four rankings with 18 steals – 3 behind all-time leader Holden. Khryapa needs 16 points and Teodosic 20 points to catch retired Panathinaikos legend Fragiskos Alvertis for 10th place on the all-time Final Four scoring charts. Alvertis retired with 145 Final Four points. Next on the list are former CSKA teammates Matjaz Smodis and Ramonas Siskauskas, who are tied for eighth with 147 points apiece.
Kyle Hines has 45 rebounds in Final Four games, and needs 1 more to tie four players for eighth place, and with 3 more rebounds would tie former FC Barcelona great Audie Norris for seventh place. Teodosic is tied with David Blu for fifth place on the all-time list of three-pointer made in Final Four history with 21. With 1 more triple Teodosic will catch Jasikevicus for fourth place, and with 2 more will tie former Final Four MVP Trajan Langdon in third place. Vassilis Spanoulis is right behind them, tied with three players (Doron Jamchi, Panagiotis Giannakis and Alvertis) for seventh place with 19 threes. Fenerbahce’s Bobby Dixon, who made 74 triples this season, needs 3 more three-pointers to tie Milos Teodosic's all-time mark (77) for a single season, but Teodosic has a shot at the record, too, having hit 72 triples this season. It is worth noting that Teodosic played 29 games last season in setting the mark, while Dixon has already appeared in 32 this season. Another Fenerbahce player, big man Ekpe Udoh has already matched his EuroLeague single-season record with 61 blocked shots going into the Final Four, and can add to that record with two games this weekend.