The Amazing Year Of Dynamo St Petersburg

By Jeff Taylor, PA International

It was always in the bag for FIBA Europe League champions Dynamo St Petersburg.

At least that's what coach David Blatt believed before his team walked onto the court to play at the Final Four in Istanbul.

Win they did.

Dynamo came from behind in the third quarter to prevail in their all-Russian semi-final with BC Khimki on Wednesday, and followed that up with an 85-74 triumph over BC Kyiv in the championship game one day later.

St Petersburg trailed 28-18 early in the second quarter against Kyiv, but hit back with a vengeance as Kelly McCarty's 24 points earned him the honour as Final Four MVP.

"Honestly, I was relaxed as I've ever been before a game and a competition coming in, because I really felt confident we were going do it," Blatt said.

"I felt like we have found that nirvana as a team, where everybody knows what they're supposed to do, and everybody's willing to sacrifice for the next guy, and everybody's on the same page in terms of winning first.

"So I was really relaxed coming in and kind of knew from the time we got to Turkey that we were going to win."

There was no reason for Blatt not to be confident, either.

No team had beaten his players this season in the FIBA Europe League.

Ed Cota, Kelly McCarty, Ognjen Askrabic, Jon Stefansson, Vladimir Veremeenko - they were some of the outstanding players at St Petersburg.

"I told my players before the semi-final, for me you're already champions but the goal was to win this thing," Blatt said.

What is remarkable is how fast St Petersburg have been able to become a force because the trophy has come in the club's first season of existence.

Coaches and presidents often tell their supporters to be patient, because success will not come overnight when teams rebuild or are newly formed.

Here is the winning formula.

The president of Dynamo St Petersburg is Vladimir Radianov, who previously owned Russian basketball's Saratov programme.

They had a lot of young talent on the books.

In a recent interview with FIBA Europe, the St Petersburg coach said: "People wanted another basketball presence in St Petersburg other than Spartak.

"I think what he (Radianov) was asked was to take the rights from Saratov and start the programme in St Petersburg, to take his youngsters on a three-hour plane ride."

Radianov decided to do just that.

He also hired Blatt, a former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach renowned for his recruiting ability, and the two immediately went to work building a team.

Blatt signed McCarty, Cota, Stefansson, Askrabic. He lost a key player in David Bluthenthal, who elected to jump ship and join Italian league leaders Benetton Treviso, but St Petersburg continued to win.

On Thursday, after winning the European crown, Blatt said: "I'm so proud of my team.

"(BC Kyiv) Coach (Renato) Pasquali said that they are a new team, but there were in existence.

"Our team was not in existence as of July 15th this year. We really built a team from the bottom up, using what I think are the cornerstones of building any winning programme, and that's starting with good people, versatile young talented players and a real emphasis on chemistry, on players that want to play together, to win together, to grow together.

"I think we lived true to our motto and our goal from that time. We got better as the season went along, we never accepted the fact that we won the week before and let that be an excuse for not coming to play the next week.

"We determined that every game was an opportunity for another win, and it was important to us to win every game. That became part of our raison d'etre.

"We really wanted to be an undefeated team."

While there is still champagne soaked in the clothes of St Petersburg players, the demands of professional basketball mean they must begin focusing on their next task - winning in the Superleague play-offs in Russia.

"Renato talked about how you have to respond to losing in the championship, now we have to find a way to survive to success," Blatt said, "how you respond after you win the championship.

"But in all fairness, we won a European championship, so I hope we come to these games really relaxed and focused and motivated, and whatever happens, happens."

First up in the quarter-finals is a series against BC Khimki.

Basketball is a funny game at times. 


29.04.2005 - By Jeff Taylor, PA International
28.04.2005 - By Jeff Taylor, PA International

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