The excitement starts here

Vladimir Stankovic
Vladimir Stankovic,
Veteran sportswriter and collaborator Vladimir Stankovic has been following the best basketball on the continent longer than almost anyone journalist, writing for decades about the sport in major publications in both Serbia and Spain. For the new 2009-10 season, he offers a series of opinion blogs about what's happening on and off the court in the Euroleague.

Aside from the 24-point difference in the game between Asseco Prokom and Zalgiris, in the other seven games in the Top 16 opening week we saw exactly the Euroleague we want to see: close games, constant changes on the scoreboard, tight scores, dramatic moments...Two games ended differences of 4 points, one with 5, another with 7, one with 10 and one with 13. But all the winners suffered a great deal, practically until the last moments. Two visitors won: Partizan and Olympiacos, and the other five had their chances. And that was just the first week of six! I can't wait for the others!

Even though I could not see all of Week 1's games, for me the best game I saw was in Vitoria between Caja Laboral and Olympiacos. It was a thrilling game, with good streaks for both sides and master plays by both teams. A clash of concepts was expected, but not quite delivered, due to circumstances. With Stanko Barac sidelined, the hosts were forced to look for more outside shots, but Olympiacos replied with the same weapon! Despite having taller, stronger players, Olympiacos only pulled 5 more rebounds than Caja Laboral. Better accuracy on two-pointers decided the outcome, as the hosts shot a 22 of 45 (53%) and Olympiacos a 29 of 44 (66%). In three-pointers the teams were practically identical (8 of 21 the hosts, 7 of 22 the guests). And you know it was a real shoot-out contest when even big man Ioannis Bouroussis nailed two of his five attempts from the arc!

Family rivalry

The game between Real Madrid and Efes Pilsen had an added interest for some, the expected duel between Marko Jaric of Madrid and Igor Rakocevic of Efes, two players who won the World Championships together with Yugoslavia in 2002. In the end there was no head-to-head duel, however, because of Rakocevic's scarce presence on the floor, just 4 minutes, but the story for their rivalry for the leadership of their generation is equally interesting.

In the U-20 European championships of 1998 in Trapani, Italy, they were champs on a team which included Ratko Varda (Asseco Prokom) and Stevan Nadjfeji (Maroussi BC), two more protagonists of this Top 16, plus Dejan Milojevic (ex-Partizan, Valencia), Jovo Stanojevic (Partizan, Prokom...). In that 1998 final, Jaric and Rakocevic played against Barcelona's Jaka Lakovic and Primoz Brezec (ex-Union Olimpija and Lottomatica Roma). It was a good year, that 1998...

But the history between Jaric and Rakocevic has its first chapter 40 years ago. In the league of former Yugsolavia, then considered one of the strongest in Europe, Igor's father, Goran Rakocevic, played as a point guard for Crvena Zvezda while the guard for Radnicki Belgrade was Srecko Jaric, Marko's father. C. Zvezda was coached by Bratislav Djordjevic, Sasha Djordjevic's father, and they were champs in 1972, while Radnicki, coached by Slobodan "Piva" Ivkovic, Dusan Ivkovic's elder brother, won in 1973. Both of them, Srecko and Goran, had the bad luck to have the great Zoran Slavnic as the starting point guard for Crvena Zvezda and the national team at that time, causing them to remain a little in the shadows, but their offspring made it up for it, big time. Both were very good players, especially Srecko Jaric, whom Dusan Ivkovic regards as the "biggest talent that he ever had under his charge". Goran Rakocevic's glory day was a game in Madrid against Real Madrid in which he scored... 40 points!

For now there will be no third installment of the rivalry with a new generation, because Igor has a son who was born last year in Vitoria, while Marko has a daughter who was born two months ago in New York, but there is still enough time for this saga to go on.

Happiness x 2

I just remembered a sentence by the great Toni Kukoc, spoken some 20 years ago: "A basket makes one man happy. An assist makes two men happy." According to this spot-on statement, Theo Papaloukas, the guard at Olympiacos, has made his teammates and himself happy 801 times in the Euroleague alone! With his 6 assists in Vitoria, Papaloukas reached a milestone and became the first player to break the 800-assist barrier in the Euroleague. Congratulations, Theo!

The Numbers

There were no more milestones this week, but there were some curious numbers. Petar Bozic, Partizan's captain, helped assure his team's victory against Panathinaikos by hitting 1 of 2 free throws in the last minute. Amazingly enough, those were the first free throws he attempted this season despite playing more than 19 minutes per game! And that's despite the fact that he is steady shooter, with 45 overall points, 4 of 11 two-pointers and 12 of 38 three-pointers...With five new triples (out of 8 attempts), Trajan Langdon of CSKA Moscow keeps on progressing in the eternal list of the best long-distance bombers. He already reached 312, only one short of Barcelona's Juan Carlos Navarro. Among the first six players in the list, only Marcus Brown of Zalgiris (0 of 4 against Prokom) failed to connect this week from three-point distance. That cost him fifth place, as Langdon and Navarro passed Brown's 310. The leader, Gianluca Basile of Barca, hit one (367), the next-best ever, J.R. Holden of CSKA downed two (341), Jaka Lakovic, who is third, also scored two (317). Navarro added three more to his total (313) and Langdon had his five for 312.