Olympiacos Piraeus’s run to the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague championship was one for the ages. The Reds knocked off teams favored on paper in the playoffs and at the Final Four to win on a heroic last-second shot. The man who helped make it all possible, head coach Dusan Ivkovic, stepped down and the team has yet to name a replacement. However the new boss with be fortunate to inherit nine defending champs, including Final Four MVP Vassilis Spanoulis and Final Four hero Kostas Papanikolaou. The Reds proved to have the hearts of a champion last season and no one will doubt this team any more.
CAJA LABORAL VITORIA
One of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague’s true powerhouses, Caja Laboral is eager to get started on a new season. Last year Laboral missed the Top 16 for the first time ever, though it did rebound by reaching the Spanish League semifinals for the 10th consecutive season and getting to its 11th straight Spanish King's Cup semifinal. One of Laboral’s biggest 2011 signings, Maciej Lampe, missed the last Euroleague campaign through injury, but was his dominant self in the Spanish League. With newly signed Tibor Pleiss joining him in the paint, Laboral will be a force to be reckoned with once again.
ANADOLU EFES ISTANBUL
Anadolu Efes Istanbul reached the Euroleague Top 16 last season for the 10th time in 11 years and now it looks to build a winning team that will take the next steps forward. Oktay Mahmuti has been handed the reins and his goal in nothing short of bringing the club back to the Final Four, a feat they accomplished together in 2001. Efes has been active already on the free agent market by signing seasoned center Semih Erden to bolster one of the toughest frontline in the competition. With the core of the team returning, it is safe to expect big things from Efes this year.
Zalgiris Kaunas appears to be on the cusp of great things once again. Zalgiris made it to the Top 16 last season for the third year running and managed to successfully defend all of its three domestic crowns – the Baltic League, Lithuanian League and Lithuanian Cup. Now it turns its attention to Euroleague glory, which the club last achieved in 1999. Zalgiris has made sure to keep the core of last year’s successful team intact before focusing elsewhere. With the great support the team enjoys, which has only grown since the opening of Zalgirio Arena, Zalgiris appears on the fast track to another exciting and winning campaign.
EA7 EMPORIO ARMANI MILANO
EA7 – Emporio Armani Milano clearly has lofty goals set for the 2012-13 season. Behind head coach Sergio Scariolo, the team from the fashion capital is all in to challenge for glory in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague and in Italy. Armani has been aggressively building an exciting roster with the recent additions of slasher Keith Langford, who previously starred under Scariolo at BC Khimki and Richard Hendrix and the re-signing of scorer Malik Hairston. Even though Milan narrowly missed the playoffs last season, it finished strong with three straight wins. A stronger start this year could have Armani regaining its old glory this season.
Cedevita Zagreb reaches a new high in the club’s history by taking part in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague for the first time. Cedevita has made a name for itself in recent years with success in Croatia and reaching the Eurocup Finals two years ago. Last season it claimed its first ever title by winning the Croatian Cup. Now with legendary coach and four-time Euroleague champ Boza Maljkovic on the sidelines, Cedevita has a leader to guide the team to new heights as it looks to continue the overall excellence of Croatian basketball in the Euroleague.
Olympiacos Piraeus General Manager, Christos Stavropoulos
"I think that we have a very tough group, but have to work hard to go through. Of course, playing against us, the defending champion, will be an extra motivation for all teams. Everybody wants to beat the champion, but I hope to have a fantastic year, just as we did last season. Just like last season, this is a very tough group, but if we work hard, believe in ourselves and give our best, I believe we can do it."
Anadolu Efes General Manager, Engin Ozerhun
"There are a lot of traditional clubs in our group, expect Cedevita, but if you want to get somewhere in this competition, you have to beat these teams. It is not going to be easy, especially in the road games. Milano is a very dangerous team, especially coming from level 5 of the draw. We will need at least one or two road games to be in a good situation to get to the Top 16 - and I believe we can make it. Having more games in the Top 16 has advantages and disadvantages. It was good to finish the Top 16 in just six weeks. It is great for fans, as they will see more high-level games."
Anadolu Efes head coach, Oktay Mahmuti
“It is true that every group is difficult. From our point of view, Olympiacos is the defending champion; Caja Laboral and Zalgiris have been in this competition for many, many years. And the giant progress and investments from EA7 Milan and Cedevita Zagreb, will make the group even harder.”
Anadolu Efes guard, Kerem Tunçeri:
“These are nice draw results from my point of view. But the important thing is what we will do. The most significant thing is first to qualify for the Top 16 and then to qualify from the highest place. We want to finish the first round in one of the first two positions. And then we will go step by step.”
Zalgiris Kaunas General Manager, Vitalijus Vasiliauskas
"It don't believe we play in the toughest group. It is going to be a challenge for all teams. I think it is a very balanced group. It is not easy to make any predictions whatsoever. The group is really good for our fans, who I am sure will support us as they always do. It is a nice group with good games to watch. Our initial goal is to make it to the Top 16. It is the minimum goal for us, too."
Zalgiris Kaunas forward, Mindaugas Kuzminskas
“There are no easy opponents in the Euroleague and even more so when you get reigning champion Olympiacos in your group. It will be a great challenge to face them. We also received other strong teams. Euroleague regular Caja Laboral will be hungry after not making it to the Top 16 last season. Anadolu Efes and EA7 Emporio Armani are getting stronger every year and their recent signings prove that. Cedevita will also be dangerous as all newcomers have ambitions to do well. Our roster isn’t completed yet, so it’s is a bit early to predict our place in this group, but anyway the goal for us will be to qualify to the Top16. With the help of our amazing fans, we will be fighting in every game to achieve it.”
EA7 Emporio Armani Milan general manager Gianluca Pascucci
"I think it's a very balanced group. Like always, we have to face the reigning Euroleague champion in the regular season. There are teams with great tradition like Olympiacos, Zalgiris, Caja Laboral and Efes, together with a new strong team like Cedevita, which is an up-and-coming organization, not only in Croatia but in the Adriatic League. Reaching the Top 16 will be a challenge, but again we have a chance to go through."
EA7 Emporio Armani Milano head coach, Sergio Scariolo
"It's clearly a very complicated group. It's impossible right now to identify the best four teams. To qualify for the Top 16 is still our goal. To achieve it we better realize right now we'll need to be prepared and mentally competitive from the very first game."
EA7 Emporio Armani guard, Keith Langford:
"I'm familiar with the teams in our group, because I competed with Cedevita in the Adriatic League last year, Zalgiris and Efes in the Euroleague and obviously I’m also familiar with Olympiacos and Caja Laboral. There are no easy games here, but in the Euroleague it happens all the time. But still I believe in the Armani Project and I’m confident we'll be able to advance."
Cedevita Zagreb Sports Director, Kresimir Novosel
"Being in the Euroleague is a big deal for us. We have been preparing for this in the last few years and have had pretty good success. We finally made it to the Euroleague and are trying to put together an even stronger team which will allow us to fight to reach the Top 16. It is a pretty tough group that has great teams with great tradition. We will do everything we can to try to find the best players we can. We will see how the season goes, taking one game at a time. It is surely not easy to get to the Top 16 when you take a look at our group, but we will see how the season develops."
KK Cedevita head coach, Bozidar Maljkovic
“I had dinner with coaches Dusko Ivanovic and Okay Mahmuti last night and we said that it would be nice to be placed in the same group. And we are. I say it’s better not to think about things I can’t influence, like earthquakes. I spoke with a dozen coaches in Barcelona and all said that Group C is the hardest one. In my life, many times I have been an outsider and we are the same position right now. But I want for my team that we will play without a complex, without fear and players that play against us will leave the court with bloody knees. In that case, no matter the result, I will congratulate my team. I know our opponents very well. They are strong clubs with great tradition, but we will fight and anything is possible.”
KK Cedevita guard, Marko Car
“It is a very hard group, but fantastic for our fans because the teams are attractive. To this moment we have not completed our roster, so I don’t know our strength or our ambition. But I know that we can be a big surprise in this group. There is a big challenge is in front of us. Big basketball stars will come to Zagreb and I am really excited to be part of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague this year.”