This summer has seen Euroleague and Eurocup players trying to help their countries around the world reach the 2010 World Championships in Turkey, but the best is yet to come! EuroBasket 2009 starts Monday in Poland with one of the biggest concentrations of basketball talent ever seen on the continent. Among the rosters for the 16 participating countries are dozens of medallists from the last World Championships and Olympics in uniform again, ready to battle for the ultimate goal. Some 120 players set to take part in either the Euroleague or the Eurocup next season will try to lead their national teams to the gold medal in Poland – not to mention a few other stars whose teams are in the Eurocup Qualifying Round. It comes as no surprise that the Euroleague will be the competition with more players than any other in the event – just as at almost every event since its foundation in 2000. More than 70 players at the EuroBasket, including some of the top stars, will take part in the 2009-10 Euroleague season. Among them are reigning Euroleague MVP Juan Carlos Navarro of Spain and Regal FCB, Final Four MVP Vassilis Spanoulis of Greece and Panathinaikos, 2009-10 All-Euroleague first team selection Ioannis Bourousis of Greece and Olympiacos and reigning Euroleague Rising Star Novica Velickovic of Serbia and Real Madrid. The 16 teams have been divided into four groups with the best three teams from each group advancing to the second round in Katowice. The 12 surviving teams will meet again in the second round, and then quarterfinals, semifinals and finals will mark the way to the EuroBasket 2009 medals. World champion Spain is the favorite to win the gold, but the depth of talent makes for plenty of strong challengers including Greece, last-minute qualifier France or defending champion Russia, as well as sleepers like Turkey, Slovenia and Croatia. The top six teams – not including Turkey – will also advance to the 2010 World Championships. Be sure to follow the latest on EuroBasket 2009, right here on Euroleague.net!
It may look as a new team in Europe's basketball elite, but Bulgaria has entered its 23rd EuroBasket final stage and won medals back in 1957 and 1961, when Academic Sofia was a top club in the newborn Euroleague. With legendary coach Pini Gershon leading the team, Bulgaria relies on veteran shooters Filip Videnov and all-time Eurocup top scorer Todor Stoykov as its main backcourt references. Chavdar Kostov is ready to showcase his talent at one of the biggest stages available. Bulgaria is equally strong inside, with the Ivanov twins - Deyan and Kaloyan - and veteran center Vasco Evtimov all key players for Gershon. E.J. Rowland will share the point guard duties with up-and-coming youngster Bozhidar Avramov. Expect Bulgaria to play the Gershon way - short possessions, quick shots and fun-to-watch basketball – as it challenges Poland, Turkey and Lithuania for a spot in the second round.
Another deep roster with a world-class coach is ready to conquer its first EuroBasket medal since 1995. Croatia has put together a very competitive team with few weaknesses – if any – and coach Jasmin Repesa is ready to take the challenge of putting his country back where it belongs. Zoran Planinic of CSKA and Roko Ukic will run the show along with off-guard Marko Popovic of Unics, who always raises his playing level with his national team. Marko Tomas of Real Madrid is ready to bounce back from an under whelming season, showing he is one of the best small forwards around. Croatia is deep around the baskets with Marko Banic of Bizkaia Bilbao Basket, two-time Euroleague winner Nikola Vujcic of Olympiacos and Kresimir Loncar of Unics. Expect run-and-gun, Repesa-style basketball, as Croatia has a real chance to fight for medals.
It may have been the last team to qualify, but France is back with outstanding game rhythm and ready for more. Led by NBA superstar Tony Parker, head coach Vincent Collet has a very athletic, versatile team on his hands. France has been using twin point guards to give Parker more freedom and space, using Aymeric Jeanneau of Asvel Basket, Antoine Diot of Le Mans or Nando de Colo of Valencia Basket with him on court. Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw are perfect fits to Collet's transition game. France also counts on a battery of solid big men ready to power the boards including Ronny Turiaf, Ali Traore of Asvel Basket, Alain Koffi of DKV Joventut and Florent Pietrus of Valencia Basket, with Diaw always ready to open the field at power forward, if needed. France did its homework to get to Poland and has no limits now, in what could be an incredible performance in come-from-behind fashion.
A newcomer at EuroBasket, FYROM will rely on a very powerful frontcourt and the last efforts of a legendary playmaker to battle its way into the second round. Vrbica Stefanov already announced that he will retire after EuroBasket 2009 - but he is the main backcourt reference for his national team squad. Riste Stefanov will share minutes with Stefanov on court, providing unlimited range. FYROM is deep around the baskets with All-Eurocup center Todor Gecevski and power forward Jeremiah Massey plus versatile big man Pero Antic and blue-collar center Predrag Samardziski. Stefanov will try to get everyone involved, while Antic, Gecevski and Massey look to open the court with their deep range. If FYROM plays the dynamic brand of basketball that led the team to Poland, it will not be your average EuroBasket newcomer.
There is some expectation to see how Germany will perform without franchise player Dirk Nowitzki. In the last decade, Nowitzki has been Germany's main option in offense, with a nice supporting cast ready to help him at any time. Coach Dirk Bauermann will have to plan a whole different strategy without him on court, so expect Germany to play the organized, team-oriented basketball he displayed when he worked for Bayer Leverkusen and Brose Baskets. As such, Steffen Hamann of Alba Berlin, Demond Greene, Jan Jagla of DKV Joventut and Sven Schultze have to step up and try to make Germany as competitive as it has been recently. Germany needs to take one game at a time in a tough group featuring France, Latvia and Russia, in which anything can happen. Look for Germany to be competitive and fight for a spot in the next round.
History was made in British basketball when Great Britain reached the EuroBasket final rounds for the first time since 1981. With the 2012 Olympic games taking place in London, Great Britain doubled its efforts to put together a very competitive basketball team and its efforts paid off in the short run. It is not all good news, however, as Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, both eligible for the British national team, will not be in Poland this summer. As such, Great Britain relies on an excellent frontcourt featuring Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Robert Archibald, his new Unicaja teammate Joel Freeland, Kieron Achara of Angelica Biella and Andy Betts of Aris BSA. Drew Sullivan, Nymburk guard Mike Lenzly and veteran playmaker Nate Reinking will be important for head coach Chris Finch. Great Britain hopes to keep growing as a team but it will need to go against all odds to survive the group stage.
Despite some key absences, Greece remains a powerhouse due to its depth and fighting spirit to compete for every game until the very last second. Incredible comebacks against France in 2007 and Slovenia in 2009 proved that in the past. Former Euroleague Final Four MVPs Theo Papaloukas and Dimitris Diamantidis will not be in Poland, but Montepaschi Siena playmaker Nikos Zisis is ready for the challenge. Bourousis and two-time Euroleague champion Antonis Fotsis lead the Greek frontcourt, while players like Stratos Perperoglou and Georgios Printezis are ready to use their Final Four experience in the event. Greece has reached the semifinals five times since 1993, winning the gold medal in 2005. Coached by former Euroleague winner Jonas Kazlauskas, Greece starts a new era, but those that underestimate them will pay a high prize for that.
Unlike in 2005 and 2007, Israel did not have to wait until the very last minute to seal its ticket to Poland. A core of players that have been together for several years is once again its main strength, along with its trademark fighting spirit. Yotam Halperin of Olympiacos and Lior Eliyahu, who just signed for Caja Laboral, are its main stars along with blue-collar center Ido Kozikaro, shooting ace Guy Pniny and combo guard Raviv Limonad. Playmaker Gal Mekel, who just signed for Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, is among the new faces in the team and is ready to show he is one of the best young point guards in the competition. Coach Zvi Sherf will try to make his team play up-tempo, as Eliyahu thrives in transition game.
Built around rebounding ace Andris Biedrins, Latvia hopes to survive the group stage and go against the best national teams in the continent. Head coach Kestutis Kemzura counts on Kris Valters of DKV Joventut and Janis Blums of Bizkaia Bilbao Basket to share the point guard duties. Biedrins will be the reference at both ends, but Latvia has a nice set of big men featuring Kaspars Kambala - back in action and ready to prove himself – three-point threat Uvis Helmanis and center Kaspars Berzins. Scoring aces Kristaps Janicenoks and Armands Skele are set to provide fireworks at both wings. Experienced players like Aigars Vitols and Gatis Jahovics round an interesting roster. If Biedrins and Kambala are on fire, few teams can match their power and athleticism, so expect Latvia to feed their big men to create double-team situations and more space for their shooters.
Lithuania looks to start a new era at EuroBasket 2009. With Olympiacos forward Linas Kleiza as its main reference, Lithuania offers a deep, versatile frontcourt that can put any team into trouble. The Lavrinovic brothers - Ksistof and Darjus, both former All-Euroleague selections, reigning Eurocup Final Eight MVP Marius Petravicius and experienced center and Euroleague winner Robertas Javtokas team up in the paint to offer a splendid combination power, defense, experience and shooting. With Sarunas Jasikevicius, Rimantas Kaukenas and Ramunas Siskauskas gone for now and maybe for good, players like Mantas Kalnietis of Zalgiris, Jonas Maciulis of Armani Jeans Milano and Mindaugas Lukauskis of Asvel Basket have big shoes to fill, but all three are young veterans ready to help coach Ramunas Butautas. Expect to see many diehard Lithuanian basketball fans backing their national team in a country where basketball is a religion.
The host team has shown what it can do in preparation games, as Poland has a legitimate chance to make it to the second group stage - and take it from there. The late addition of David Logan adds a scoring reference and an on-court leader to a team that already had good scorers like forward Michal Ignerski and playmaker Lukasz Koszarek. Poland is quite powerful around the baskets, with Marcin Gortat and Maccabi center Maciej Lampe sharing the minutes. Veteran big man Adam Wojcik and shot blocking specialist Szymon Szewczyk are ready to come off the bench. Krzysztof Roszyk and Robert Witka add defense and experience to the mix. Coach Muli Katzurin has the challenge to get the entire country behind his team with the goal to reach as high as possible. Its balanced, talented starting five and a devoted crowd could take Poland further than expected.
Despite missing some big names, Russia is ready to defend the title it conquered against all odds at EuroBasket 2007 in Spain. Russia is without superstars Andrei Kirilenko and J.R. Holden, while versatile forward and defensive ace Viktor Khryapa may miss the event due to a last-minute injury. Coach David Blatt brought Kelly McCarty in to lead the Russian squad. Players like Sergey Monya, Anton Ponkrashov and Sergey Bykov will have to step up to take Russia as far as possible. Everyone will keep an eye on center Timofey Mozgov, one of the best young centers in European basketball, who is set to make his Euroleague debut next season. Expect CSKA youngsters Alexey Shved and Andrey Vorontsevich to play an interesting role, too. Russia is not seen as one of the favorites to win it all in Poland, but that is exactly what happened two years ago and Blatt's team went all the way. Expect Russia to be a competitive, exciting team ready to once again prove its value.
A new look team ready to get back to its glory days should break with its recent past at EuroBasket 2009. The former Yugoslavia lifted eight EuroBasket titles - the last three already as Serbia and Montenegro – but its last crown came in 2001. Serbia recruited legendary head coach Dusan Ivkovic to get ready for a new era and he put together a solid team ready to battle for the medals. Stefan Markovic of Hemofarm Stada and Milos Teodosic of Olympiacos will share minutes at point guard, while a core of Partizan-bred players will lead the team in Poland. Centers Nenad Krstic and Kosta Perovic, Velickovic, streak shooter Uros Tripkovic, defensive ace Dusan Kecman and Panathinaikos guard Milenko Tepic all played for Partizan and coach Dusko Vujosevic in recent years. Expect Eurocup Rising Star Award winner Milan Macvan and do-it-all forward Nemanja Bjelica to shock everyone in Poland, too.
There are reasons to believe that Slovenia can break its particular jinx in national teams competitions. Despite a small population, Slovenia always had a collection of great players, but an incredible comeback saw Greece down Slovenia in the EuroBasket 2007 quarterfinals. Three-time Euroleague winner Matjaz Smodis of CSKA remains the top Slovenian reference, with a supporting cast that includes All-Eurocup forward Bostjan Nachbar of Efes Pilsen, combo guard Jaka Lakovic, his Regal FCB teammate Erazem Lorbek and center Primoz Brezec. Union Olimpija head coach Jure Zdovc knows what it takes to get to the top, as he did it as a player. Slovenia’s depth, versatility, experience and talent unquestioned, so all Slovenia needs to do is to take one game at the time and battle for EuroBasket medals.
The reigning world champions and silver medallists from the 2008 Olympic Games are looking for their first EuroBasket crown. Spain has lost six EuroBasket finals – three in the last decade, including a heartbreaking defeat at home against Russia in the 2007 title game - but there are reasons to believe that things could change this year. Led by NBA champion Pau Gasol - who missed most of the preparation games due to a finger injury – Spain also relies on Navarro, his new Regal FCB teammate Ricky Rubio, experienced forwards Felipe Reyes and Jorge Garbajosa of Real Madrid and former Euroleague Rising Star Award winner Rudy Fernandez to go for gold. Spain is the main candidate to win the competition, as its combination of experience, a team-oriented game and endless talent is quite unique in world basketball. Coach Sergio Scariolo of BC Khimki hopes to lead Spain to break its EuroBasket jinx.
Another team to watch is Turkey, which has found the right chemistry with a battery of young, talented big men used to playing together. Fenerbahce Ulker centers Semih Erden, Omer Asik and Oguz Savas are ready to prove their value with head coach Bogdan Tanjevic knowing everything about them. Ersan Ilyasova will see most minutes at power forward alongside Turkey’s superstar swingman Hedo Turkoglu. Playmakers Kerem Tunceri and Ender Arslan of Efes Pilsen are ready to share the point guard duties, while Tanjevic has a lot of options at the wings. Tanjevic can play big with Ilyasova and Turkoglu outside or opt for elite defensive players like Sinan Guler or Omer Onan, full of intensity at both ends. Turkey could become the most pleasant surprise at EuroBasket 2009 with two nightmare mismatches like Turkoglu and Ilyasova - an added value for a very competitive team.