Game of the Week: Let's get this party started!

Sep 30, 2021 by Frank Lawlor, Print
Game of the Week: Let's get this party started!

A warm and wonderful welcome to the earliest opening day ever for a Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season!

No one wanted to wait until October to get the party started, so it had to happen on the last day of September.

For basketball lovers, anticipation is always sweet this time of year. Their new teams are going under the spotlight, the ball is being bounced and shot in earnest again, and the unpredictability that reigns in the EuroLeague means that every team is a potential champion right now.

But today is different for one major reason.

In greater or lesser proportion – but in full voice no matter their numbers – the greatest fans in the world are back.

More precisely, they are back where they belong, at the center of our sport, projecting their energy onto the playing court and boosting their teams to greater heights.

The most passionate basketball supporters anywhere are the special sauce of the European game, and starting today, they will be mixed back into a magic recipe that makes the EuroLeague so irresistible.

Opening night is the perfect moment to remember the ultimate truth about the EuroLeague: every game counts.

But it was just three seasons ago that one team reached the playoffs and another missed them by just 3 points between them that would not have changed the outcome of either of their games that season.

So beyond every game, every play counts, too.

Keep that in mind while enjoying tonight's first Game of the Week between AX Armani Exchange Milan and visiting CSKA Moscow, two giants of world basketball who last met in last spring's third-place game.

Two all-time great coaches, Milan's Ettore Messina and CSKA's Dimitris Itoudis, know that as well as anyone. They demand nothing less than all-out intensity on every play and their teams reflect that ethos. They last met in the third-place game in Cologne last spring after each of their teams had come a shot short in the semis. This season will be all about taking their teams one or two steps higher.

Milan stuck with a core of stars while transforming the power forward position, with Nicolo Melli and Konstantinos Mitoglou, and bringing in veteran newcomers Jerian Grant, Devon Hall and Troy Daniels (who starts the season injured). This team should be tougher and faster while still banking on the experience of former champions such as Kyle Hines, Sergio Rodriguez and Luigi Datome.

CSKA changed less but in many ways changed bigger, welcoming back superstar Alexey Shved and adding prime-time swingman Marius Grigonis. But CSKA also gets back center Nikola Milutinov, whose mid-season injury last winter ended his MVP bid and hurt his team in the Final Four. They are perfect complements to standout standard-bearers like Will Clyburn, Tornike Shengelia, Daniel Hackett, Nikita Kurbanov and Johannes Voigtmann.

Milutinov torching a EuroLeague all-time record with 16 offensive rebounds on Milan's floor before he was injured last season. No doubt, that was is one reason why the Italians hired Mitoglou, one of the best young rebounders on the continent. Keeping Milutinov at a rebounding total of mere mortals tonight will be a team job that, if Milan can do it, ups the chance for a win but also sows a seed for the rest of the season.

That, of course, is the other thing about opening night, setting the tone. It will be a jubilant tone beforehand at the sight of fans filling seats across EuroLeague arenas. It will be a respectful one when the late great Dusan Ivkovic is honored before tipoff.

But once the basketball goes up, it will be the EuroLeague game in all its glory, no more waiting, party started.