|Which captain will lift the trophy on Sunday - Krasnye Krylia's Aaron Miles or Pinar Karsiyaka's Ümit Sonkol? Watch the EucoChallenge Final LIVE on FIBA Europe TV, at 18:00 CET!|
Ask any player, fan or journalist in the Turkish city of Izmir about Sunday's EuroChallenge Final and you realise there is one unanimous prediction, but it has nothing -or little- to do with the actual outcome of the encounter.
Inside the venue of the title game, Karsiyaka Arena, it's going to be deafening loud and boiling hot, everyone agrees.
Ambient temperature is expected to rise to 28 degrees Celsius, and you can be sure that on the court, the players of both hosts Pinar Karsiyaka and Krasnye Krylia will perceive it as much closer to 48.
It won't be for lack of ventilation, as Krasnye Krylia forward Andre Smith knows only too well.
"I love Karsiyaka, you saw their fans in the semi-final, they are the best in Europe, in the world!" the 28-year-old American exclaimed.
"I wish I could take these fans everywhere I go with me."
Were it not for the logistical challenge of moving around Karsiyaka Arena's capacity crowd of over 5,000 raucous fans, rest assured that Smith would have gone ahead with this.
After his side had taken care of business in their semi-final against BCM Gravelines Dunkerque on Friday, the power forward returned to the arena to watch Karsiyaka's battle with EWE Baskets Oldenburg.
He entered clapping his hands to the rhythm of the chants and sang along with the Turkish fans.
Not so long ago, and during two seasons from 2009 to 2011, he was one of the players cheered on by these same Karsiyka fans.
"I had two great years here," Smith recalls about his time in Izmir.
"I asked my wife to marry me here, this place is always going to be in my heart no matter where I am playing."
Izmir could also become a very special place for Karsiyaka head coach Ufuk Sarica on Sunday, if the Final Four hosts inflict on the Samara side their first defeat in the EuroChallenge this season.
Should Karsiyaka prevail, Sarica will become the first Turk in history to have won a European cup both as a player (the Korac Cup in 1996) and as a coach; he knows that the support of the local crowd will go a long way toward helping with this goal.
"It's difficult to win against a team that arrives undefeated, but we have also beaten Euroleague teams on this court this season [in the Turkish BEKO Ligi] and maybe Krasnye Krylia taste their first loss in Europe here, in front of our fans," Sarica said.
It will however definitely take more than a sympathetic crowd, no matter how extraordinary, to win this EuroChallenge final.
"It is not going to be an easy game for either us or them, it's a final and both teams only get one chance at it," Sarica explained.
"We are the best defensive team in the EuroChallenge and they are much better offensively.
"We need to take control of the game and not let them find their rhythm.
"We need to play with heart; this is our main characteristic, especially on defence.
"In the semi-final, offensively we were terrible, but in the final I expect us to be much more relaxed."
|The final against Pinar Karsiyaka will be a special game for Krasnye Krylia forward Andre Smith, as he spent two seasons with the Izmir based club|
Karsiyaka have underwent a complete renovation since the end of the 2010/11 season, when Smith left Izmir, and only two youth players and an assistant coach are still with the club.
Yet the Krasnye Krylia forward sees a lot of similarities between the two sides.
"This team are good, they are made quite a lot like we were," he said.
"They have a big strong '4' man who is solid and can score and rebound [William Thomas]; a lot of good Turkish players who know their role on the team; a shooter on the wing, they are built almost identical to that team I was on, just different players."
The Karsiyaka side that Smith was on did not get past the EuroChallenge quarter-finals, what has changed to enable them to reach the final this season?
"Some offensive sets, a couple of smaller details and a couple of the role players, they are now a lot deeper than we were when I was here," is Smith's immediate assessment.
Sarica also has a lot of admiration for his team's Sunday opponents.
"We know they have great players and they are a great team," he admitted.
"But we are also dangerous and have very good players."
Perhaps another prediction that is quite safe to make then is that we're in for a very close, hard-fought final.
"We will only know who wins at the end of the fourth quarter," Smith asserts.
"I hope we win, of course; I cannot say a part of me is going to feel bad if we do, but it will be a bitter-sweet situation for me."
And a very hot and loud one too, for sure.