A new era begins in Athens where Panathinaikos starts anew under former star and new coach Argiris Pedoulakis, who replaced the legendary Zeljko Obradovic. Last season the team made another run at Euroleague glory and came up just short of defending its 2011 title by losing to CSKA in the semifinals at the Final Four in Istanbul. The change on the bench has been followed by a bit of a roster shake up, but with former MVP Dimitris Diamantidis holding the fort and former All-Euroleague center Sofoklis Schortsanitis joining, Pedoulakis has the pieces to work with for another march towards greatness.
The winningest team in European basketball was also one of the most entertaining last season in head coach Pablo Laso’s first on Los Blancos’s sidelines. In his second season, the team looks to improve on a successful campaign and to break through to challenge for Turkish Airlines Euroleague glory. Madrid has been trending upward in recent seasons after reaching the 2011 Final Four and last year claiming its first domestic trophy in more than four years - the Spanish King's Cup. The team’s first marquee move of the summer was bringing back Rudy Fernandez, a move that only makes an already lethal offensive team that much more dangerous and puts Madrid on the list of teams to watch out for.
BC KHIMKI MOSCOW REGION
The reigning Eurocup champion, BC Khimki Moscow Region, makes a triumphant return to Europe’s brightest stage. Head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis led the club to a fine Eurocup season last year and back to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague. The team started the offseason with a bang by re-signing several key parts and adding James Augustine and Paul Davis to the frontline and K.C. Rivers and Petteri Koponen to the backcourt. Khimki’s great depth and talent coupled with the fact that so many important players return from last season make this team a force to be taken seriously this season.
With a new and winning coach and a sparkling new arena, there is no time like the present for Fenerbahce Ulker. Simone Pianigiani steps into a great situation in Istanbul with an ambition club eager for wins. Ulker Sports Arena opened midway through last season, but this will be the team’s first full campaign at its new palace. Pianigiani inherits a talented group from last season, which reached as far as the Top 16. The coach, however, always expects to go further than that, so the goals this season will be set accordingly. And watching Fenerbahce try to meet those goals promises to be exciting.
UNION OLIMPIJA LJUBLJANA
Union Olimpija comes off a difficult season looking to bounce back and to use the great home-court advantage of Stozice Arena to rack up big results. Olimpija won the Slovenian Cup for the fifth year running, but did not advance a stage in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague. Despite that disappointment, the dedicated fans in Ljubljana are itching for another big season and the club is eager to oblige, which should set up the coming season as one to remember.
Panathinaikos Athens sports director Manos Papadopoulos:
"It is a difficult group. We will see what happens, especially with the team that comes out of the qualifying round. I believe we will have a very strong team. We will have more games in the Top 16, which is a good thing. It gives us the opportunity to earn more income and for the fans the chance to see more very good basketball games. We will have less time between phases, but I don't believe this is that important. This is a new start for us after many, many years. We will try to have a strong team to fight for everything, of course, according to the current financial situation in Greece."
Panathinaikos Athens head coach, Argyris Pedoulakis
“It’s a very strong group, probably the strongest of the draw. There are teams with tradition, strong clubs, but we still don’t have the clear picture, since they are now forming their rosters. It’s a given that we want to carry on the tradition that Panathinaikos has in the Euroleague. We will continue to build our team, while monitoring our opponents’ moves, in order to be able to distinguish the real profile of our rivals. In any event, in the Euroleague there is no such thing as an easy game or an easy opponent.”
Panathinaikos center, Sofoklis Schortsanitis
“The first thing we have to say is that there is no easy or difficult group in the Euroleague. For the time being there are just names. All the teams are trying to form their rosters, so we don’t know the real dynamic of each team. Real Madrid has already made a couple of moves and it has great tradition, Fenerbahce Ulker looks like it’s going to move in the same direction, but we still don’t have a clear picture. Panathinaikos is… Panathinaikos! We want to maintain the high level of the team. There are no easy or difficult tasks. There is only the undisputed will to work hard in order to achieve our goals.”
Real Madrid Basketball Director, Juan Carlos Sanchez
"It is not an easy group, but we are facing the best teams in Europe and we have to expect is to face competitive ones. We will try to get to the Top 16 and carry on to our next goals. The fact that we signed Rudy Fernandez is good for everyone. Having a superstar back in European basketball to play the Euroleague with Real Madrid will make everyone even more competitive. Having more games is a good idea, especially since the playoffs didn't change. It gives you a chance to bounce back from small mistakes, like we made against Bilbao last season. If that happens this season, we have eight more games to recover. It is a better and more fair system."
Real Madrid head coach, Pablo Laso:
"We have been drawn into in a difficult group in which we face a team that has been European champions six times, Panathinaikos Athens. There are also two great teams in Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul and BC Khimki Moscow Region, which are always very competitive and have great players and very good coaches, and Union Olimpija Ljubljana, a club with great tradition in European basketball and always possessing quality in its ranks. There remains the mystery of knowing which team will arrive from the qualifying phase, but surely it will also have a high level, so we have to be highly competitive from the first day in this difficult group."
Real Madrid forward, Carlos Suarez
"In the Euroleague, any group is competitive because they are the best in Europe. Ours is no exception and we know that to move to the next phase we will have to be very focused from the moment we start the competition. We will face great teams, great tradition and great organizations, and we know that no game will be easy. "
BC Khimki Moscow Region General Director, Victor Bychkov
“We know that the Euroleague has the best of the best and we should be happy with the draw. Top-clubs will visit Khimki that will cause great interest among our fans. Speaking more specifically about the names, Real and Panathinaikos are probably the best that we have in European basketball. Turkish teams are very strong too, and Fenerbahce constitutes a menace. I am sure we will have exciting games, in which Khimki will have the opportunity to prove itself. I hope for the remaining period of preparation before the start of the Euroleague that we will be able to compose a team that will be able to solve the most serious problems.”
BC Khimki Moscow Region head coach, Rimas Kurtinaitis
"With our budget and ambition, our goal is always to play in the Euroleague. It is tough to get back to the Euroleague through the Russian League. We are back and I am happy about it, as we want to be at the top level of the competition. Everyone in Khimki is happy to see the highest level of basketball in town. Of course, it is special for me to play against Real Madrid, as I played for them in the past. Not only that, Coach Pablo Laso and I played together. We sat together in a couple of meetings this week. I am happy to meet Real Madrid as a coach."
BC Khimki Moscow Region guard Vitaly Fridzon
"We expect very exciting games, because the group is very interesting and generally equal. I think the draw results will please our fans, as top-clubs like Real Madrid and Panathinaikos will come to Khimki. For sure we can't underestimate Fenerbahce and Olimpija."
Fenerbahce Ulker General Manager, Nedim Karakas
"We have a new coach this season and we are looking for players to complete our roster. On paper, our group is very open. Every team has a chance to advance. Nobody knows what can happen. Of course, Real Madrid and Panathinaikos are good opponents to have at our arena, for our fans. They are always top teams in the Euroleague, always among the favorites to go to the Final Four. Still, it's difficult to predict what can happen at the end of the season. Last year, no one believed that Olympiacos would win, and they did."
Fenerbahce Ulker head coach, Simone Piangiani
"We are in the strongest group in the Euroleague. The team arriving from the qualification round is also going to be great. At this moment it is time for us to start a new program with new players. The Euroleague is a very exciting competition. It’s important to be ready from the beginning. With our quality and respect for our opponents, it’s very important to pass through the regular season and continue into the Top 16."
Fenerbahce Ulker guard Omer Onan
"We were drawn into a very difficult and dangerous group. We have to be very careful. We are forming into a new team with a new coach. We are going to be a strong team. We have to believe in ourselves and fight as Fenerbahce Ulker always does."
Union Olimpija Ljubljana Sports Director, Matevz Zupancic
"After the announcement at the General Assembly, our club has to solve its own financial problems and then we will be able to speak more about the ambitious we could have. Still, if you look at the group, it is great for fans. There are several traditional teams in the competition like Panathinaikos and Real Madrid and strong squads like Fenerbahce Ulker and BC Khimki. We just want to be a tough opponent for them."
Union Olimpija head coach, Saso Filipovski
“We were drawn into really difficult Group A, but on other hand also a very attractive group for our fans. We are happy that we will have a chance to host quality players and coaches in our Stozice Arena in the coming season. Panathinaikos, Real Madrid, Fenerbahce and Khimki are definitely a guarantee for a big basketball spectacle, as well as the team which will come from qualifications. I can’t really talk about our expectations at this moment, but I believe that the financial situation in the club will be fixed soon and that people will find the positive energy and money to meet the requirements given by the Euroleague.”