EuroChallenge Comes To 'Basket City'

16.04.2009

The EuroChallenge Final Four will be staged in ‘Basket City' in 2009.

Home to the great Italian derby, Virtus v Fortitudo, Bologna is the setting for the climax of what has been a thrilling European competition that tipped off back on October 7, when teams battled in Qualifying Round 1.

At the Final Four, hosts Virtus BolognaFiere will go up against Proteas EKA AEL of Cyprus in one Semi-Final while French outfit Cholet and BC Triumph of the Moscow Region will square off in the other.

For the players of Virtus, there are constant reminders of what the sport of basketball means to Bologna, the biggest of which happens at least twice a year when they battle Fortitudo.

The last time that happened was on March 29 when a red-hot Virtus won 75-74 for their seventh win in eight Lega A games.

Reshawn Terry, Virtus' late January signing, knows something about bitter rivalries.

He enjoyed an American college career at the University of North Carolina where he and the Tar Heels had numerous clashes on Tobacco Road with Duke and NC State.

However, the Bologna showdown is like something he's never experienced before.

"They yelled at you at Carolina," he says.

"But over here it's more hands-on. This (in Bologna) is more life and death."

A look at some of the people who have either coached or played for Fortitudo or Virtus speaks volumes about the prestige of the game in the city.

Ettore Messina, regarded by many as the best tactician in Europe who is currently at the helm of Russian juggernauts CSKA Moscow, spent several years as the coach of Virtus and won numerous trophies, including a couple of European championships.

At Virtus, he coached greats like Sasha Danilovic and Antoine Rigaudeau of Yugoslavia and France, respectively, as well as Argentinians Manu Ginobili and Hugo Sconochini.

Fortitudo have had big-time coaches like Carlo Recalcati and Jasmin Repesa, men who currently hold the reins to the Italy and Croatia national teams.

Several years ago, Italian veteran Gianluca Basile and Slovenia international Matjaz Smodis helped fire Fortitudo to the Lega A crown.

Famous Italians Carlton Myers, Gregor Fucka, Marco Belinelli and Gianmarco Pozzecco have all turned out for Fortitudo.

Right now, though, Virtus reign supreme in Basket City.

They came within an eyelash of upsetting Montepaschi Siena in the Coppa Italia Final on February 22, losing that game 70-69.

Virtus are second only to Montepaschi in the Lega A standings.

The raison d'être for the good results, the Virtus players say, is defense.

"Without defense, a team can't be successful," says Terry.

"We're in a good moment and we're defending hard," says Guilherme Giovannoni, the Brazil international who is the captain of Virtus.

"That's a good strength to have."

Guilherme has played in a couple of FIBA Europe Final Fours already in his career. He played in a FIBA Europe Final Four with BC Kyiv and in a EuroCup Final Four a couple of years ago with Virtus, when they finished third at the event in Girona, Spain.

"It's very nice to be here again," he says.

"We're playing this one at home.  The pressure is on us to win this competition so we have to be cool, play how we've been playing up to now and don't think about pressure. We just need to do our jobs and do what makes us successful."

This Virtus outfit is coached by Matteo Boniciolli and it has a lot of firepower.

There are Italy's Olympic silver-medal winners in Athens Alex Righetti and Roberto Chiacig, a dynamic backcourt that includes Earl Boykins and Finland international Petteri Koponen.

There are sharpshooters Ntousan Tsalikis-Vouktsevits, Brett Blizzard and the team's leading scorer in the EuroChallenge, Keith Langford, along with the explosive Sharrod Ford.

The EuroChallenge has special significance for Giovannoni because he is the team leader.

"It's a great honor for me," he says. "I really care about this team."

Virtus will know that the other three teams that are travelling to Bologna are desperate to make a mark.

BC Triumph and Proteas EKA AEL, a side that hosted the EuroCup Final Four last year, have been hugely impressive.

Cholet have also raised eyebrows.

There will be no shortage of stars on hand, like the emerging Cholet guard Rodrigue Beaubois who has turned into one of the competition's most explosive scorers.

"There remain only two matches to win to have this title," says Beaubois, who has buried 20 of his last 31 shots in the EuroChallenge in a five-game span that has seen him average more than 18 points per game.

"We will do everything to go to the end.

"All the finalists are very good teams, but we are very motivated and we all will give everything to arrive there. For the victory I cannot guarantee, but everything is possible."

Terry says he doesn't feel an additional burden because Virtus are hosting the Final Four.

"I don't think necessarily it is pressure," he says.

"It's just something that has to be done. We want to take full advantage. It's just a matter getting the job done."


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