When the Euroleague American Tour '09 tips off tonight with the Denver Nuggets vs. Partizan Belgrade, it will still be October 3 on the court in the United States, but due to the time difference, will already have become October 4 in Europe. That distinction is important because Partizan was founded on October 4, 1945, making tonight's game an ideal 64th birthday gift: Partizan's first official game in the United States or against any NBA team. The party continues with as Partizan travels to Phoenix for a game with the Suns three days later. "It is big honor to be the first Serbian team to play against NBA teams," Predrag Danilovic, Partizan’s president and a former star player himself, said of the tour. "The Euroleague recognized our work over the past ten years and invited us to participate in the Euroleague American Tour '09, and we are very grateful for the opportunity to play games against the Nuggets and the Suns."
Partizan is already well-known in the United States as perhaps the biggest factory of European players in the NBA: starting with Vlade Divac and proceeding to Danilovic, Sasha Djordjevic, Zeljko Rebraca, Predrag Drobnjak, Ratko Varda and Nenad Krstic, to name a few. The curiosity for Partizan fans may be that the only club alumni to have played for the Denver Nuggets is Predrag Savovic, who as a teenager played in Partizan more then 10 years ago.
This time, however, Partizan is in Denver to show its modern Euroleague credentials, which include two consecutive trips to the Quarterfinal Playoffs with the youngest roster in the competition. Last season, Partizan so entertained its fans in Belgrade that they set a record at a Euroleague Top 16 game for the largest attendance in the history of European club basketball. A total of 22,567 fans saw Partizan defeat mighty Panathinaikos, the eventual Euroleague champion, at Belgrade Arena.
Although fans in Denver will probably not be on their feet singing throughout tonight's game, as were the record-breakers in Belgrade last spring, there are plenty aspects of the Euroleague American Tour '09 from which Partizan's youngsters can benefit, according to their coach, Dusko Vujosevic.
"Games at American tour are great opportunity for our players to learn and make a progress," Vujosevic said in Denver. "I know that after 15 days in the U.S. we will be tired at the start of the season, but the positive effects of the tour will come later, with the crucial games of the season. If you want to be a champion, you have to run with champions."
Partizan arrived in the U.S. on September 24 and has already warmed up for its NBA opponents by playing exhibition games against all-star teams in Chicago and Detroit, two strongholds of the Serbian community in America. The rival team in both cases, called the Midwest All-Star Team, included such familiar names as Arriel McDonald, who formerly starred at Maccabi Tel Aviv and former NBA champion Scot Pollard. Partizan won both games. At Purdue University Calumet, the score was 88-82 as teenage sensation Jan Vesely scored 19 points, Aleksandar Rasic 18 and Alex Maric 15 for the winners. Damone Brown led the Midwest All-Stars with 23 points. Three days later at Dakota High School near Detroit, the final score was 101-81. With big men Vesely and Branislav Djekic sitting out with injuries, Maric led Partizan with 18 points, Rasic added 16 and Zarko Rakocevic 13. The top scorer among the all-stars was Robert Traylor with 14 points.
"Partizan is a very good team, young but very athletic," Pollard commented. "I think that they will be able to cause some problems for the NBA teams."
Vujosevic, the man who for so long has nurtured Partizan's young talents to great heights, begged to differ with Pollard - but only on the matter of timing.
"We have no pressure and no illusions about beating NBA teams at this moment," Vujosevic said. "But this is the start of a mission, and that mission's target is to beat some NBA team in the future."
Denver Nuggets vs. Partizan Belgrade tips off tonight at 03:30 CET, which is 19:30 local time in Denver.