Arbel: Dream Serbian Generation Takes A Bow

21.05.2007

By Yarone Arbel

Yarone Arbel is the founder and editor of the Israeli basketball web site www.salnews.com and an international scout. He is a regular contributor to many basketball web sites and publications across Europe including eurobasket.com and euroleague.net. A basketball junkie with an encyclopedic knowledge of the international game, Yarone provides basketball insights in the form of his blog and column.

July 16 is an important date in Sports History.

Some remember it as the day the 1950 World Cup finals in Brazil drew the largest crowd in sports history, nearly 200,000 fans.

Others, with a different perspective on what really counts, will tell you that it was "the day after." The day after an era came to an end.

When Milos Teodosic carried Serbia to victory at the 2007 U20 European Championship, he completed one of the most successful journeys of any generation in European youth basketball history. The 1987 born Serbians dominated the continent for four years, and now that they have graduated from Europe's youth tournaments the run for gold is open once again.

Such domination by a single generation is nothing the continent has witnessed before. The '87 generation started its journey in Spain by winning gold at the U16 Championship in 2003. The following year was the only title they missed, and since then they have won three titles in a row from 2005 to 2007 in the championships that matched their age. That's a total of four titles out of possible five per generation, but like any magical group it wasn't only the bottom line, it was also the way they did it, through total domination.

In 2003 the cadet National Team of Serbia & Montenegro shocked everyone who came to follow the new talents. Such a deep roster with just about everything a team should dream of. Pure talent oozing off almost every player on that squad. Milos Teodosic, Milenko Tepic, Dragan Labovic, Nemanja Aleksandrov, Nikola Dragovic, Nenad Mijatovic and co. were exposed to the eyes of basketball fans in that championship. The result was a perfect championship. They didn't drop a single game, the smallest margin was 15 and that was in the finals. They won their games by an average of 25 points.

2004 was the only championship the '87 generation missed. Spain, led by Sergio Rodriguez, hosted the U18 Championship in Zaragoza, and dominated its way to the gold, but that had nothing to do with Serbia's failure.

The true reason was that in 2004 the age group of the U18 championship was 1986-1987 born players, and so only four of the "Magical Cadets" made it to that team. Aleksandrov, Labovic, Tepic and Mijatovic are their names. The others were left at home, and so Serbia & Montenegro finished only fifth.

One year passed and total domination was back. In 2005 the U18 European Championship was hosted by Serbia & Montenegro, and the '87 kids were back on top. Despite their biggest prospect (Aleksandrov) not showing up, they once again played a perfect competition.
It started with a 48 point win over Poland that sent out a message, but two tough wins over Croatia (in overtime) and Turkey (2 point difference) followed, which raised doubts. Not for long. Two double digits wins in the semi-finals and the gold medal game paved the way to the podium. 

It was another 8-0 tournament, made even more impressive by the fact they won every game by an average of 14.3 points. In 2005 Ivan Paunic and Vladimir Stimac, who weren't part of the "golden cadets", joined the gang and showed this generation is even deeper than what we believed.

The Year 2006 was probably when the golden era kids showed their greatness in the U20 European Championship. Once again the competition's generation was 86 born, but unlike two years ago, this time the team was based on the '87 born kids. Half of the team was 1987 born - Tepic, Labovic, Mijatovic, Jereminov, Paunic and Dragovic.

Even without Aleksandrov and Teodosic Serbia & Montenegro won it all, once again without losing a single game on the way to the trophy and they won by an average of almost 12 points.
What made it sweeter and more impressive was that this championship was played in Turkey. The Turks, blessed with a great 1987 generation (Ersan Ilyasova, Cenk Akyol, Oguz Savas, Semih Erden & Engin Bayav), wanted a piece of gold for their own. When Serbia & Montenegro won the gold in the U16 and U18 the finalist in both finals was Turkey. Now, on their home court, it was time for revenge. Or so they thought.

In front of a packed arena with thousands of passionate fans, the Serbian kids made it again with a 64-58 win. It must also be mentioned that two 1986 Serbian players (Nikola Pekovic and Tadjia Dragicevic) played a key role in that title, but the golden generation surely had a big impact.

And then came 2007. The last time this group would be assembled.  Very few of them will make it to the senior team and so 2007 marked the end of their run.

Take one look back on each competition and you’ll see that it was never the same team. Always at least one key player was missing. Never the same group of main guys led the team. One way or another someone stepped up and showed his talent was hidden behind another big rising star. The last title was no different.

Aleksandrov, once again, wasn't on the team (called for the senior team), while the split between Serbia and the new rising country of Montenegro took Mijatovic out of the plans. Nevertheless, once again it was title time. Serbia did go down in the first game, a two point loss to hosts Slovenia, but from there didn't look back. Seven straight wins on the way to gold, with an average of almost 14 points difference per win. The win in the finals over Spain made Serbia the first National Team ever to win the U20 European Championship back to back.

There it is, the 15th of July. The last time the '87 golden kids grouped together to dominate Europe. It was a five tournaments stretch that had resulted in four gold medals. One U16 gold, one U18 gold and two U20 gold. Their only "failure" came when only four of them were on the team. They were an amazing 31-1 in the four tournaments in which they won gold, and had a list of impressive wins.

Good morning Europe. The golden era is over. The road to the gold medal is open again. Start dreaming.



21.5.2007

On April 24, 1994 the Los Angeles Clippers hosted the San Antonio Spurs in an NBA regular season finale.

David Robinson was chasing the young Shaquille O'Neal for the scoring title and the gap between their season averages was only six one-hundredths of a point, so every point on the final night could make the difference.

 

Any other night in his very long career Robinson was a team player, but that night the entire Spurs team played for him. Almost every play went through his hands. He scored the first 18 points for the Spurs and in the last quarter alone added 28 in the attempt to secure the individual title. The Spurs won the game 112-97 but the main story was Robinson.

After 48 minutes net the Admiral not only edged Shaq for the title with 29.8 ppg (over 29.3 for the runner-up), but also joined a very prestigious club. His total of 71 points made him the fourth player in NBA history to score more than 70  points in a single game. Shaq scored only 32 points and felt like he was robbed.

Pretty much every player will choose to be a diplomat and say he doesn't care about personal achievement, because the first thing is for his team to win. For many of them that's indeed the truth, but there are enough players out there who desire those personal achievements more than they'll publicly admit.

For some it's a matter of pure ego, some are extremely competitive, some know it might benefit them to have "best scorer" on their resume when it's time to negotiate their next contract, and the list goes on. Whatever the reason is, it's all legit, even if they try to sell diplomatic answers at the end of the game.

Robinson is the most famous example of such a case, but the last gameday on ACB was another fine one. Two individual titles were on the line – "best scorer "and "best passer".

In the first battle two were aiming at the title – Tau Vitoria's Luis Scola and Barcelona's Juan Carlos Navarro. Both announced before the game they won't think about the individual title during the game.

Both their coach's – Navarro's Dusko Ivanovic and Scola's Bozidar Maljkovic – are considered tough coaches, that won't stand the mere thought of playing for such a title even in a game that would not otherwise have any meaning. Since both Tau and Barca needed the win, it seemed even less of a possibility, but the first half showed differently.

Scola, who needed to score about 5 points more than la Bomba to win the title, didn't rest for one second while Navarro was on the bench for no more than 30 seconds. Each scored 16 points in the first half but none in the third.

With a period left to decide Navarro stepped up to finish the night with 29 points, eight more than Scola, and become the first Spanish player since 1973 to be the top scorer of the local top league.

A by far more interesting battle was for the best passer award, where three of the top point guards in Europe fought over who was going to help his teammates score more baskets.

All season long Real Madrid's Raul Lopez and Tau's Pablo Prigioni led that table, but as the regular season approached its end, Unicaja Malaga's Pepe Sanchez started breathing down their necks.

Before the last tip off of the regular season Prigioni and Sanchez were tied behind Lopez, and whoever wanted to be the "king of passers" needed to have at least five assists more than the leader.

Lopez made their job easier.

He totaled only three assists when Real lost on the road to Joventut and finished the season with 4.32 apg. Prigioni was still in the hunt as he piled up exactly eight assists when Tau beat Bilbao at home, to take from Real the first place in the standings, and finish the season with a 4.33 apg.

But Sanchez had other ideas. Unicaja lost on the road to Estudiantes but the Olympic gold medalist dished out 14 assists to win the title.

Even more amazing was that Unicaja scored a total of 22 field goals and 60 points in that game and since he scored three field goals himself, he was responsible for more than 60% of Unicaja's field goals. 39 out of the teams total of 60 points were a direct result of him.

Pepe Sanchez didn't score 71 points, but if you're a true basketball fan you probably love and honor his attempt to dish as many assists as possible.


 

30.04.2007

They say experience counts. They say there are no short cuts. That a coach must climb the levels step by step before taking on a big team, and leading it to a title.  This last season across Europe showed that isn't neccessarily the truth anymore.

The more you look around, the more you find young coaches who got a chance in a big team, and not only bring modern basketball to the floor but also win titles, a task far greater and more experienced coachs failed to do.

It started already in the last season, with a coach in Serbia and another in Turkey, but spread this season to Israel, Spain and Italy. In each of the above you can find a young coach who already in his first season as a head coach, most of them already after a few months, won a title.

Divac – FMP Zeleznik (Adriatic League 2006)
If we want to find the pioneer, the one who set the grounds for the rest to come, we need to go back to the previous season. Vlada Vukoicic led FMP Zeleznik to the Adriatic League title already in his first season on the lines. Vukoicic, who's nicknamed "Divac", showed already in his first season with a top club as FMP, that he can handle the pressure, deliver results and combine all that with a beautiful game style.

FMP isn't a rich club, and based on young local prospects, a rarity nowadays. Divac is also an assistant coach in the Serbian National Team, and this summer will try to help his team win the gold medal again in EuroBasket 2007.

Murat Ozyer – Ulker Istanbul (Turkish championship 2006)
One more story from last season brings us Murat Ozyer, one of the most promising coaches in a basketball country as Turkey. For many years he was an assistant coach in Ulker, identified with the club, for those who followed closely. He was there in the last three years when Ulker saw their archrival – Efes Pilsen, lift the title.

Deep inside the last season Ulker unexpectedly fired coach Ergin Ataman for personal reasons. After some thinking they choose to give Murat the chance. In his first weeks on the lines as a head coach he found the way to lift the team to higher levels. Ulker broke a four-year drought and finished the season with the Turkish championship in a 4-0 sweep that smashed Efes Pilsen.

Pepu Hernandez – Spain (World Championship 2006)
This case isn't a classic example. Coach Pepu was a long time coach and very respected in ACB for his years of good word with Estudiantes. When he took on the Spanish National Team he was no rookie coach, but he was inexperienced in one field – international play.

2006 FIBA World Championship MVP Pau Gasol (Spain)
MVP Pau Gasol helped make Hernandez a World Champion coach.
Pepu fits this list because the 2006 FIBA World Championship was his first ever international event with a national team. He has never coached a national team, not even a youth one and certainly not in the highest level such as a world championship. Nevertheless, on the way to the gold, in his first national team event (big or small) he eliminated one after the other the three coaches that won the last three big titles in the international game: Lithuania's Antanas Sireika (EuroBasket 2003 champion), Argentina's Sergio Hernandez (Olympics 2004 champion) and Greece's Panagiotis Yannakis (EuroBasket 2005 champion).

Dan Shamir – Hapoel Jerusalem (Israeli Cup 2007)
Israel is blessed with many good coaches, but very few of them had the pleasure of winning a domestic title. The unprecedented dominance of Maccabi Tel Aviv sentenced far too many good coaches to finish their career without a title. Coach Dan Shamir escaped that long list already in his premier season as a head coach. Shamir was valued as a promising coach from a very early age, but only this season, at the early age of 32, got his first chance to be the spearhead.

In the last three seasons he was assistant coach for Maccabi, but starting this season he's the boss on the bench of archrival Hapoel Jerusalem. In February he led his team to win the Israeli National Cup for the first time since 1997, and cut a nine-year streak by Maccabi. Hapoel routed Ramat Gan in the semi-finals 117-78 and easily eliminated Bnei HaSharon in the finals – 103-85, in a game that was decided already in the first half. Hapoel season started very bad, but Shamir handled the pressure, made some changes in the roster, and besides winning the cup, took his team to the quarter-finals of the ULEB Cup, where he was eliminated by another young coach – Divac of FMP. In the Israeli league Hapoel look like a real contender for the title.

Shamir, a 24/7 basketball brain, worked under Pini Gershon in the last three years, and his Hapoel is playing in a very similar game style of the great Maccabi. An offensive oriented game, with high tempo that fans love to watch.

Joan Plaza – Real Madrid (Uleb Cup 2007)
Real Madrid spent a lot of money in the last years, but failed to deliver results. In 2005 they won the ACB title but needed a big miracle to do that. The championship before that was only in 2000. The last time they won the Copa del Rey was in 1993 and their last European title was in 1995. Big names and big contracts appeared on the bench of Real, but very few delivered.

Joan Plaza, 43 years old, coached the junior team of Joventut Badalona for three years, one of the best basketball schools in the continent. Then he went to the fourth division as the head coach of the farm team of Joventut and since 2001 he was an assistant coach for Joventut and later on Real. Last summer Real decided to bet on the inexperienced coach, and so far it turned for the best.

Plaza led Real to the ULEB Cup winning 12 of their last 13 games, as Real played very persuasive basketball. Real is also running strong in the ACB, and by winning the ULEB Cup secured a spot back in the Euroleague next season, when they'll host the Final Four. Ettore Messina, Svetislav Pesic, Pini Gershon, Dusan Ivkovic and Zeljko Obradovic. These are the coaches who were picked to coach the clubs hosting the Final Four in the last years. Plaza, who was already extended, will join this shinning list already in his second season on the bench.

Simone Pianigiani - Montepaschi Siena (Italian Regular Season Championship)
Simone Pianigiani is another name who's more than worthy to be on the list. The Italian coach of Montepaschi Siena is standing on the lines as the big boss for the first time in his career at the age of 38.  For a decade he was an assistant coach in the club, and was there in every minute of the wonderful journey when Montepaschi climbed from a mid-level team in the Italian league to the very top of Europe. Pianigiani was there when they won Saporta cup in 2002, shocked Europe by making it to the Euroleague Final Four the following year and in 2004 came one shot short of playing the Euroleague finals before winning the Italian championship for the first time in history. On the way he was coaching the junior team of Montepaschi, which is considered the best in all of Italy.

Working on big coaches as Fabrizio Frates, Ergin Ataman and Carlo Recalcati surely helped Simone on his path to where he is. That spot is no other than the first place in the Italian league, with a huge margin from the second place. Under Pianigiani Montepaschi is dominating the Italian league with a 27-4 record, with seven wins more than the second spot. There are three more games to play in the regular season, and if that gap remains, it will be the biggest in the history of the Italian basketball. Other than winning the regular season championship and the home court advantage in the play offs, Montepaschi also got a ticket for the Euroleague next season.

Pianigiani didn't win yet any official title. In the ULEB Cup his team was eliminated in the quarter-finals, in the Italian cup they suffered elimination in the semi-finals (when Benetton made a miraculous comeback in the last three minutes), and there's still a long way ahead before Montepaschi could win the league title, but nothing can take from him the huge debut season.

Shout out
All the above coaches won a title, and obviously earn the spotlight but there are also a few others who already in their first season in a first division club left a good impression.

Mariano de Pablos of Estudiantes Madrid was an assistant coach in the club for 18 months before taking over the role in February. His club

Mariano De Pablos (Estudiantes)
Mariano De Pablos (Estudiantes)
made it to the EuroCup Final Four where it was stopped by the eventual champs from Girona, which ended Estudiantes 14-game winning streak under de Pablos.

Selcut Ernak of Turkish's side Banvitspot worked with Murat Ozyer in Ulker for three years as a second assistant coach. He started the season with Banvitspor as the first assistant and in February, just like de Pablos, got promoted to the big chair. His team surprised everybody by making it to the finals of the Turkish Cup. In the semifinals Banvitspot upset the clear favorites and league leaders - Fenerbache/Ulker 88-87 after an overtime.

Last but not least is coach Giorgos Bartzokas of Olimpia Larisa of the Greek league. For him as well this is the first season as a head coach, and already in the debut appearance carried his team to the play offs from the seventh spot. Olimpia Larisa has never been in the playoffs.


 

05.04.2007

This game was supposed to be the one to attract the least attention among the 139 games in the Israeli league this season. A delayed game from 12th week of the season between Ironi Ashkelon (currently bottom of the league) and second-placed Hapoel Jerusalem.

The game was re-scheduled for the day in between the Euroleague quarter-final play-off games between powerhouses Maccabi Tel Aviv and CSKA Moscow. The media focus was everywhere but on Ironi Ashkelon.

A normal game would have got a short passage in the morning papers, but most normal games don’t finish with a 146-151 scoreline after six overtimes, which is what it took for Hapoel Jerusalem to finally beat Ashkelon.

This marathon game consisted of 70 minutes of playing time, or around three and a half hours total, before the winner was decided.

The six overtimes set this game as the longest in the history of Israeli basketball, and one of the longest in the history of the game. The total of 297 points is another new league record.

A game with so many minutes played and points scored usually throws up some interesting stat lines, but in this case it didn’t really happen.

Meir Tapiro (Hapoel Jerusalem)
Meir Tapiro's three-pointer sent the game into a fourth overtime
Ashkelon's Marcus Hatten played 65 minutes, which is a record by itself, and finished with 43 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists but he was the only player of Ashkelon to score big numbers or post a double-double.

Hapoel’s Mario Austin had only six points after four quarters but finished with 35 points and 10 rebounds. Last year Austin scored 43 points when Hapoel won at Ashkelon in…overtime. Terrence Morris played 59 minutes and ended with 33 points and 19 rebounds while Horace Jenkins added 31 points.

The game went to overtime tied at 79-79 after Hatten score twice from the line in the closing seconds. Ashkelon's Shakhar Cohen had a chance to win the game but made just one free throw and Guy Pnini lost the ball at the other end to finish the first OT in an 86-86 tie.

In overtime number two it was Jenkins' turn to score twice from the line to make it 94-94 and send the game into a third extra period.

It seemed like Ashkelon would get the win when Hatten went to shoot two free throws with his team leading 108-106, but he made just the first shot with eight seconds to play. Hapoel didn't waste the chance and Meir Tapiro, one of the greatest clutch players in Israeli basketball history, hit a turn around three-pointer off one foot, (one crazy-crazy shot,) to make it 109-109 and force a fourth overtime.

Then it was once again Hatten who tied the score, this time with a jumper, and Pnini once again failed to score a tough shot that could have ended it all.

Overtime number five saw Hatten go to the line for three shots with his team three points behind, and he made all three of them. Hatten forced three of the six overtimes in the game, but before that came another episode in this thriller.

Austin scored a crazy three pointer for Hapoel with a single second to finally decide the game, but apparently the referees didn't want to finish the contest just yet. They ruled that Austin had stepped out of bounds on the play and the game went into a sixth extra period.

Both teams showed up to the game with one player out due to injury. Hapoel missed guard Matan Naor while the locals had to manage without big guy Nate Williams. Each of these absences became crucial as the game went on.

Obviously the long game resulted in many players fouling out. Ashekelon lost four members of their front line, leaving them with a line up of five guards for the last two overtimes. The tallest guy on the court was Or Eitan, a 1.96 m. shooter who spends most of his time around the three-point line. Ahkelon’s remaining four players were all under 1.88 m, but they were still able to force the sixth overtime and eventually lost by just five points. 

Hapoel on the other hand had four guards with five fouls and the result was a line up of five players, none of whom were under 2 m. Luckily for Hapoel that took place only in the final seconds of the game, which resulted a very funny episode to watch, but had little effect on the game itself.

A freaky fact is that this isn't the first time the spectators in Ashkelon had to watch a game much longer than expected. Only four days ago, in the 17th week of the league, Ashkelon beat Ironi Ramat Gan in a game that went to double overtime.

It doesn't stop there.

On March 18th, two and a half weeks ago, Ashkelon hosted Givat Shmuel and that game too went to double overtime.

A simple calculation reveals that Ashkelon have played 10 overtimes in their last three home games over a period of just 18 days. It is unlikely that a similar scenario has ever taken place at any level of the game.

Hatten, who played 65 minutes against Hapoel, didn't get one second of rest on Sunday night and played the entire 50 minutes in Ashkelon’s double overtime thriller with Ironi Ramat Gan. Last season by the way Hatten played a triple overtime game in Israel, and had 45 points in ‘only’ 51 minutes.

If you curious to know if there is any reason for Ashkelon’s streak of marathon games there is perhaps one answer. The freak occurrence started once Khanokh Mintz took over the coaching job at Ashkelon, which made some people think he should have signed a contract to be paid by the minute.

Before the crazy 18 days started Ashkelon was already known as the "thriller maker" in the league. Out of the team's first five home games of the season three were decided by a single or two points. Ahkelon won another road game by a single point with a long range buzzer beater.

Whoever will be the next team to visit Ashkelon, the key person for that game probably won't be the head coach. Keep an eye on the fitness coach. There's a good chance his role will be the key for the win.


 

23.03.2007

1,262 km separate Athens and Bologna, but last Sunday there was a round orange ball connecting them.

Both cities have seen the re-emergence of two of European basketball's most legendary clubs after lengthy absences from the top flight.

The old rules are re-set now.

Aris - First we take Athens
Aris Thessaloni's journey in the Euroleague came to an end on Wednesday, but nobody in the Yellow club will be too upset. This season marked the return of Aris to the elite of Europe after a long absence. The club which made three Final Four appearances in a row in the late 80's, and stayed among the best in the early 90's, spent too many years out of the spotlight.

While Aris all but dissapeared from the top echelons of the game,  another club wearing Yellow rose in Greece. AEK Athens made it to the Euroleague finals, won the domestic championship title after a 32-year drought, and was a permanent resident in the Euroleague.

Last year things changed. Aris' slow and steady climb back to the top finally paid off, as the team finished third in the league and got its hands on Greece's third Euroleague berth. It was the first time Aris had qualified to the Euroleague in 15 years.

AEK, on the other hand, had a very bad season, finished only 7th, was eliminated in the play-off quarter finals and found itself in financial trouble that put the final stamp on the club's downward spiral.

There was one common denominator in all those years of AEK success and Aris failure.

For the past 16 years Aris Thessaloniki didn't win a single game at AEK's home court. The tradition dated back to the glory days of Aris, when Nikos Gallis was still an active player for the legendary club.

16 years and 18 games in which Aris was unable to destroy the walls built around AEK's arena, came to an end last weekend when Aris finally broke the spell, and did it with style.

The Salonica club trashed AEK by 25 points, 64-89, after a close first half. An 18 game losing streak came to an end. AEK's fortress is no longer impenetrable for Aris. It seems that the change in fortunes between the Yellow teams is now final and complete.

Virtus - Then we take Bologna

While Aris took over Athens, on the same day Bologna, basketball city of Italy, was captured as well by an old-new force.

Virtus has been the senior club in Bologna for many years. Once Ettore Messina took over the coaching spot in the early 90's, the club experienced big success both in the domestic and European fields.

Fortitudo was the "black sheep" of the city for many years, chasing after the crowned rival. Once in a while titles landed in their part of the city as well, but the bigger name was still Virtus.

Then came the infamous bankruptcy that sent Virtus to find a new present and future. During those years Fortitudo not only took over the city's basketball scene, a somewhat less glamourous act considering Virtus was in the second division, but also showed great success on both the domestic and European stages.

Fortitudo holds an impressive achievement in seven straight  appearances  in the Italian league finals, that started already in the days Virtus was live and kicking. But once Virtus was out of the picture it seemed like Fortitudo's job was easier. In addition in 2004 the club made it to its first Euroleague finals. A season later came the club's second domestic championship title.

Last season Virtus, in their new form – Vidivici, came back to A1, but Fortitudo's control of the basketball scene in Bologna was still iron clad.

Fortitudo managed to beat Virtus twice, including a sweet 84-86 road win at the legendary Palamalaguti. At the end of the season Fortitudo was back in a seventh finals in a row, while Virtus was one place short of making it to the play offs, finishing 9th in the league standings.

2006/07 kicked off and things changed.

Fortitudo suffered a bad start in both Italian league and the Euroleague, while Virtus quickly grabbed a seat in the top of the domestic table, while marching to the EuroCup Final Four.

Things changed. It was obvious to every eye watching. Virtus was back on top, while Fortitudo's downfall was hard. When Virtus won the first Bologna derby 64-60 at home in the first round, the earth didn't quake, but last Sunday the revolution became official.

Vidivici showed up at the PalaDozza (Foritudo's fortress for many years) and showed who was the old-new boss of Bologna in 2007. 81-92 was the final score for the reawakening force, but the gap was 20 points already in the first half.

05.12.2006

Trivia - what do Joey Beard and Nikola Vujcic have in common?

Answer - both go down in European basketball history for recording multiple triple-doubles.

While people consider registering double-digits in three statistical categories a rare scenario in European basketball, it's not as seldom as you may think.

Toni Kukoc (CRO) at EuroBasket 1999
Toni Kukoc is a member of the multiple triple-double club.
If you follow carefully some of the weaker leagues around Europe, you can often find a triple-double achieved by foreigner players. But what is intriguing are some of the previous triple-double achievements at the top of European play.

Last week, Nikola Vujcic of Maccabi Tel Aviv joined the multiple triple-double club in his team's home Euroleague game against Olimpija Ljubljana.

The Croatian center tallied 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in only 26 minutes. In fact after 21 minutes he already had nine rebounds and nine assists. Coach Neven Spahija, sent him back on court for the last five minutes of the game, after the outcome was already decided, just to complete the mission.

It marked the second time Vujcic recorded a triple-double in the Euroleague.

Last year, he accomplished the feat to start the Euroleague season.

Beard made world triple-double history of his own.

Nowadays, at age 31, he's a back up center with Benetton Treviso. In the 2000-01 season the same Benetton loaned him to Rimini.

Beard had the best field goal percentage in the Italian league that season and averaged an impressive 12.6 ppg with no less than 9.8 rpg, but what made that season so special for him were the triple-doubles.

Beard achieved not one, not two but three triple doubles. But even that doesn't reveal what's so amazing in his case.

The classic and common combination is points-rebounds-assists. However, all three of Beard's triple-double were recorded by virtue of steals. Can you imagine an inside player having three consecutive games of 10 steals or more?  Just to add some perspective, no player in the history of the NBA has achieved that.

Amazed enough? Keep space for one last hit. This unbelievable performance took place during a period of less than a month, in which Beard was simply on top of everything.

Between January 20th and February 18th 2001, Beard was in another sphere with three triple-doubles in four games. He started with 17 points, 15 rebounds and 10 steals. He also had games of 16 points, 16 rebounds and 10 steals and 18 points, 15 rebounds and 10 steals.

In the same month, he also registered 19 points, 18 rebounds and "only" eight steals in a game against Benetton. This has to go down as one the most amazing one-month periods of a player in the history of European Basketball.

Vujcic still has a ways to go before he reaches Beard.

Here are some other triple-double performances from the past:

Dejan Tomasevic had a triple double of 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in the ACB's 2004 playoffs when his team Pamesa Valenica beat Unicaja. Mark Dickel also stepped up in a play-off game while playing for Fenerbahce when he had 16 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in a hot derby against Galatasaray that went to overtime.

Going back in time we find the legendary Toni Kukoc during his days with Italian side Benetton Treviso. In his first season there he had 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists vs. Trieste, and in two more games he was one rebound short of making another triple double. In his second season with Benetton, right before joining the Chicago Bulls, he surpassed himself with a huge 21 points, 16(!) assists and 13 rebounds game vs. Roma.

FIBA Europe's competition has their own share of triple doubles. Israeli guard Meir  Tapiro had a monster triple double of 34 points, 17 assists and 11 rebounds when Hapoel Jerusalem beat MBC Odessa in the 2003 Champions' Cup.

In EuroBasket 1995, once again Kukoc shutdown Finland with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in what was probably the first and also last EuroBasket triple double.

Earlier that year Russian guard Vasiy Karasev carried CSKA Moscow to a 95-65 win over Olympiacos in the Euroleague's quarter-finals, with 21 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.

The 2000-2001 Suproleague season displayed a triple double as well. Derrick Phelps of Alba Berlin had 11 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in the second game of the eighth-finals versus Iraklis Thessaloniki.

Let's go back one season and find Paok's Bill Edwards with a great triple-double during the second week of the Euroleague - 24 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists against Cholet.

As you can see, the triple-double is definitely rare, but still occurs from time to time even at the top of Europe.

If you have comments about this article, email Yarone at yaronearbel@salnews.com

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30.07.2006 

In part II of his Kill Bill Guide to EuroBasket 2007, fibaeurope.com columnist Yarone Arbel takes a look at some of the juicy match-ups in Groups C and D.

Group C

Lithuania – Turkey
This one is quite a fresh memory. Not even from a EuroBasket, but from the FIBA World Championship in Japan. On opening night Lithuania took on underdog Turkey, but lost 76-74. Arvydas Macijauskas had two chances to win the game for his team, but blew them both.

Turkey finished the tournament 6th while Lithuania was only one step behind in the 7th place, yet when both teams arrived back home, the Turkish players were welcomed with sweets, while the Lithuanians had to avoid getting pelted with tomatoes.

What a chance for Lithuania to get things going.

Lithuania – Czech Republic
The former champs will have a busy schedule as far as revenge goes, and this one goes back eight years. The Czech Republic qualified to EuroBasket only once, in 1999. Back then Lithuania had probably the best team in their history.

Arvydas Sabonis (LTU) at EuroBasket 1999
Even the mighty Arvydas Sabonis could not prevent defeat to the Czech Republic at EuroBasket 1999
What else can you call a team with all the stars from Zalgiris, who had won the Euroleague only several months before – Stombergas, Zukauskas, Einikis and co. with a young Sarunas Jasikevicius and two legends in Arturas Karnisovas and none other than Arvydas Sabonis.

On opening night they faced the "virgin" Czech Republic, who missed their biggest star – Jiri Zidek, himself a Euroleague champion with Zalgiris only months before. What they did have were two 19 year old players on the rise – Lubos Barton and Jiri Welsch.

Final score? Believe it or not 78-62 to the Czech side.

Germany – Turkey
This one has to go back in time quite a distance as well, but what a huge memory it was for basketball fans.

EuroBasket 2001 was hosted by Turkey, and for the first time since 1949 the local team made it to the top four, where Dirk Nowitzki and Germany were waiting.

This all-time classic semi-final went to the Turkish side, 79-78 after overtime. The #1 hero was Hedo Turkoglu and he was all over this game.

He posted 23 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists and on top of all was the crunch time guy.

Hedo hit the bucket that sent the game to overtime – an amazing three pointer. Then in the extra period he scored the last five points of his team, including the winner shot that made history for the ‘Dev Adam’.

Hedo kept Dirk waiting for four more years before making it to the finals of a EuroBasket.

Now Dirk will get his chance for revenge.

Group D

Italy – Slovenia
These two neighbours also met last summer in Japan during the FIBA World Championship.

The Italians arrived in Japan with a poor record against the Slovenians, after failing to beat them since 1997. It all came to an end with an 80-76 Italian win.

Jaka Lakovic scored five points in a row that kept his team in the game in the last minute, but then missed a free throw that could have made it a one point game in the closing seconds, and a lay up that shut the streak down.

Slovenia will get a chance to start another nine-year streak in Spain.

France - Slovenia
Even fans with a short memory could remember the last encounter between these teams.

France and Slovenia played in the same group in EuroBasket 2005 in Beograd. Just like this time, the draw stated both teams will meet on the last day of the group games.

Just like then it means the winner can advance to the Quarter-finals, while the loser might need to play the classification round or just go back home.

In Beograd Slovenia enjoyed a big push from thousands of fans that came by the bus load to win 58-68, in what turned out to be the second lowest points scored by France in a EuroBasket game during the 21st century.

France – Italy
France broke a podium drought of 47 years by claiming the bronze in EuroBasket 2005, but it could have happened two years earlier if it wasn't for Carlo Recalcati's gang.

In the group stage of EuroBasket 2003 France humiliated Italy 52-85, but the ones who had the smile on their face at the last day of the competitions were the Squadra Azura.

Italy and France went head-to-head for the third place in EuroBasket 2003. Equally important, if not more, this game was also for the last European spot in Athens 2004.

Only a day after committing a deadly turnover which resulted in a loss in the semi-finals to Lithuania, NBA star Tony Parker missed a lay up that could have sent the game to over time. Instead, the 69-67 defeat cost France the win, the medal and a place in the Athens Olympics.

His chance to pay back to the Italians will come at EuroBasket 2007.


 

26th October 2006

Basketball is more than just ten players, three people fans like to hate, two rims and one ball.

I mean that's what it is, but if that was the only thing the game had to offer, nobody would have bothered to ask me to write this blog, let alone read it.

Many consider the 1995 EuroBasket final as one of the best match ups in the history of the game.

Marko Popovic (Croatia)
Marko Popovic will be looking to avenge Croatia's bitter 2005 defeat against Spain
The level of basketball was high with legends as Vlade Divac, Sasa Djordjevic, Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marcioulinas on the court.

But what gave this game the added value and made it so special was the story behind the game. Namely Yugoslavia’s huge desire to prove they were still the best after the ban from the 1993 games and Lithuania’s goal of winning a gold medal for the first time as an independent country since the 1930's.

Emotions are what make this game, or any sports, worth following and getting addicted to. Sure, most of us can perfectly enjoy a random mid-season high level game, or even a local junior tourney, but it's all just a preview for the big games.

Those where at least one of the teams has something to prove. Where someone is looking for revenge.

The draw for EuroBasket 2007 assures us that many of those teams seeking revenge will get a shot to do so as early as the group stage. The fact EuroBasket is played every two years increases the rivalry between the national teams and fans, and makes it more and more interesting to follow these match ups.

Here's the "Kill Bill" list for the group stage in EuroBasket 2007. Get your swords out, it's time for revenge!

Group A

Serbia - Russia
Serbia and Russia will go head to head on the opening day of EuroBasket 2007. Those of you with deja-vu might cast your mind back to EuroBasket 2003.

Back then in Group C Russia shocked the European and World champs from Serbia 80-95 and were the first to announce to the world the Serbian domination is over.

From that point until today Serbia has never got close to even winning a medal.

The game in Spain would be the perfect example for Serbia to close the circle with a clear one-sided win over Russia, that will tell all of Europe ‘Serbia is back!’

Greece - Russia
On their way to the gold in EuroBasket 2005 the Greeks faced Russia in the quarter-finals. That night was a battle for a ticket to the World Championship.

In a recent interview Theodoros Papaloukas described his feeling that night: "When I came on the floor to face the Russians I felt like I was returning home late at night and didn't have to turn on the lights to find the way to bed. I knew what to do to get them in trouble."

Papaloukas scored a competition high 23 points and led Greece to a 66-61 win that kept Russia out of the World Championship for the first time ever.

In Spain the teams will meet on the last day, in what can turn into a key game on the way to success. The perfect chance for revenge.

Group B

Spain – Croatia
On September 3rd 2006 Croatian basketball fans sat in front of the TV set, watched Spain lift the world trophy and had an urge to scream ‘That was supposed to be us!’

Croatia were on the verge of eliminating Spain from EuroBasket 2005 in their quarter-final, and winning the ticket for the World Champs.

Whoever follows European basketball closely knows what happened next. 

If they had won the game, Spain wouldn't have been playing in Japan. For Croatia to beat Spain, in front of an arena packed with Spanish fans, will be sweeter than sweet.

Latvia – Spain, Latvia – Croatia
After failing to make the classification round in the last two EuroBaskets Latvia can ask for no more than the chance to play more than three games.

The last time it happened was in 2001, when Latvia shocked Europe by making it to the quarter-finals, but the in the same EuroBasket they also suffered two heart-breaking defeats against the two teams that share the same space with in Group B.

Spain demolished the Latvians 106-77 while Croatia took the 7th place from Latvia on the last day with a 91-93 win after Damir Mulaomerovic’s buzzer beater.

Neither game stirs pleasant memories for Latvian basketball fans, but at EuroBasket 2007 Latvia will have a chance to put those losses to rest.


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