Zenit St. Petersburg has assembled a deep cast of experienced winners as it prepares for its maiden Turkish Airlines EuroLeague campaign. Every game will be an adventure for Coach Joan Plaza's team. Here are five big games that stand out on the Zenit schedule.
Round 1: Zenit makes its EuroLeague debut
History will be made in Round 1 of the regular season when Zenit makes its Turkish Airlines EuroLeague debut against ALBA Berlin in the German capital. It will also be the first time these teams meet in any competition, despite having taken part in the same 7DAYS EuroCup season as many as six different years. It's been a long road to the EuroLeague for Zenit, which comes ready to play with a new-look roster full of experienced talent. Opening night is a great time for Zenit to put it all on display.
Round 5: Plaza coaches in Kaunas again
The matchup against Zalgiris Kaunas will be a very special one for Joan Plaza, who coached the Lithuanian powerhouse in the 2012-13 season. Plaza led the team to a great comeback season, in which it won the Lithuanian League title and reaches the VTB League semifinals. He was widely appreciated by fans, media and staff. Coach Plaza has only been back to Kaunas once - with Unicaja Malaga in the 2017-18 season - but a lot of memories and emotions will come together when he steps in Zalgirio Arena again and receives a warm ovation before another EuroLeague battle begins.
Round 9: Back at La Fonteta
It will be a special game for Zenit power forward Will Thomas, who comes off a career-best season with Valencia Basket. Thomas led Valencia to the 2018-19 7DAYS EuroCup title by averaging 17.3 points on outstanding shooting percentages (72.0% 2FG, 66.7% 3FG) and 4.3 rebounds in three games against ALBA Berlin to be chosen as the EuroCup Finals MVP. If Thomas has the best memories of his career at La Fonteta, Zenit playmaker Alex Renfroe has bitter thoughts from the arena. As an FC Barcelona player, Renfroe missed a three-point shot that went in and out and allowed Valencia to eventually win the Spanish League title in 2017.
Round 11: A Real welcome
This will be another emotional game for Coach Plaza, whose first professional head coaching experience was with Real. After several seasons as an assistant coach, working under legends such as Aito Garcia Reneses and Bozidar Maljkovic, Plaza was given the opportunity to coach Real in 2006. He delivered right away, winning the club's 30th Spanish League title and also lifting the then-called ULEB Cup trophy in 2007. It was Real's first European trophy in nine years. Plaza went on to coach the team for two more seasons and his tactical battles against Pablo Laso are always a treat due to their different approaches to the game.
Round 27: A Russian rivalry on the biggest stage
Zenit and CSKA have a big rivalry that goes beyond basketball. This is the first season, however, in which CSKA and Zenit will face each other in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. Last season, CSKA swept Zenit in the VTB League semifinals, but it was a closer series than most people think. CSKA won Game 2 at home, 83-81, but Zenit had a chance to win at the buzzer with a missed three-point shot. CSKA also won Game 3 by a narrow margin, 68-69, but Zenit once again had the ball in the final seconds with the opportunity to win the game. Expect more close games between these teams.