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50 Years: Riga, Latvia takes center stage - again
50 Years video!
Just as it opened one page in European basketball history one-half century ago, the Latvian capital of Riga is ready to turn another on Monday to start the brand new 2007-08 ULEB Cup season! ASK Riga hosts Lukoil Academic in a very special opening game that will replay the first- and second-ever European cup finals. The same clubs faced each other for the first continental title, in 1958, then squared off again in 1959. What's more, that 1959 final was the last time they faced each other - until Monday night. The double celebration of a season-opening game and an historic anniversary was marked by an official dinner on Sunday at the 26th floor of Reval Hotel in the Latvian capital, with a magnificent view of the entire city. Janis Birks, Major of Riga and also President of ASK Riga, and Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu spoke to a select audience to introduce the event, as images of the 1958 final's second game, played in Sofia, were unveiled. "It is a great pleasure and honor to be in Riga for the Opening Game of this new edition of the ULEB Cup," Bertomeu said. "We are here again to play and to remember the time when Riga was the capital of European basketball. Looking forward to the future, we have to remember where we come from."
ASK is not your average ULEB Cup newcomer, but an ambitious club looking to reclaim the glory of the past. Thousands of diehard fans, the state-of-the-art Riga Arena and a model organization that has taken care of each and every detail coming into this special game prove that ASK Riga intends to stand again among Europe's basketball giants. ASK cannot expect an easy start in its ULEB Cup debut, however. Lukoil arrives to Riga with historical revenge on its mind, but has already shown itself to be a solid ULEB Cup team over five seasons in the competition. ASK is facing injury problems, too, as Ernests Kalve, Ugis Vilums and above all, one-man show Curtis Millage will not take part in the game. Lukoil, meanwhile, arrives with the experienced talents like Pero Antic, Donta Smith and the ever-dangerous Todor Stoykov, the ULEB Cup's all-time top scorer.
One thing is for certain: the opening game will be a one-of-a-kind event, as it commemorates one of the central moments in 50 Years of European Club Basketball. As such, both clubs will be honored on-court before the game. Expect a particularly emotional moment when participants in the historical 1958 final - Valdis Muiznieks, Alvils Gulbis and Olgerts Hehts of ASK; and Georgij Panov, Ljubomir Panov and head coach Bozidar Takev of Academic Sofia, among others - take the floor prior to tipoff. Highlighting the presentation will be rare video images of the first-ever Euroleague final, to be shown in the giant videocube at Riga Arena.
Conscious of its place in history, ASK Riga worked hard to turn this opening game into one to remember, as general manager Girts Kalnins explained hours before the event. "Our city and our club are very honoured to host this event, as part of 50 Years of European Club basketball," Kalnins said. "The fact that the Government of Latvia and the City Council are attending the game proves that. The President of Latvia will attend the game, and this is one of the biggest events we will have this year. It is an honor to welcome the ULEB family here, this is also special for us, because we want to bring back the glory days of basketball in Riga."
On a competitive level, Monday is very much the start of a rebirth for his club, Kalnins said. "We are very excited about playing in the ULEB Cup," he said. "Of course, when we renovated the legendary ASK team, the main goal set was to return to the Euroleague, raising the level of our team as much as we can to achieve it. This is our ultimate goal, but we must start by becoming a very good ULEB Cup team."
All eyes will be on ASK and Lukoil Academic in the ULEB Cup opening game tomorrow. Follow their very special opening game and a full, exciting season right here on ULEBCup.com!
Sunday, November 04, 2007
Javier Gancedo, Riga