|CSKA have put together a team of European stars and expect Andrei Kirilenko, arguably the best player throughout this Euroleague season, to lead them to a seventh Euroleague title (photo: Robertas Dackus) |
As the European basketball community holds its collective breath ahead of the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four that tips off Friday in Istanbul, one thing is for certain.
No matter who the 2012 champions are, the first pair of hands to lift the coveted trophy at the Sinan Erdem Arena will come attached to the very familiar face of one of the best European players of all time.
Lithuanian legends Sarunas Jasikevicius and Ramunas Siskauskas, one of which will be in Sunday's final as Panathinaikos and CSKA face off in the first semi-final, were among the main responsible for the Baltic country winning the previous EuroBasket title, in 2003.
They have already won six Euroleague titles between the two of them.
THE VIEW FROM THE TOP OF EUROPE
The duo of Lazaros Papadopoulos (Olympiakos) and Kostas Tsartsaris (Panathinaikos), as well as Viktor Khryapa (CSKA) and Victor Sada (FC Barcelona) have also witnessed how Europe looks from the top of the podium on both international and club level, with Greece (2005), Russia (2007) and Spain (2011) respectively.
In fact Kirilenko, the 2007 FIBA Europe Player of the Year, is the only one in this company to have never won a Euroleague title, even though one can safely assume his trophy case would be full by now if he hadn't spent the last ten years of his career in the NBA.
|No one can write off 2011 champions Panathinaikos, led by the multi-winning Zeljiko Obradovic on the bench and orchestra conductor Dimitris Diamantidis on the court|
His teammates Nenad Krstic and Milos Teodosic, the 2010 FIBA Europe Player of the Year, will certainly hope this will change on Sunday night so they can add the most important trophy in club basketball to their collection, next to the EuroBasket 2009 silver medal they won with Serbia.
It could also be of course that their compatriot Kosta Perovic beats them to it, if FC Barcelona meet the Russian side in the final and the Spanish giants prevail.
This arrangement would definitely suit Navarro, the Catalan side's and Spain's national team captain.
If Barcelona were to win in Istanbul, the EuroBasket 2011 MVP would accomplish the unprecedented feat of having conquered back-to-back European titles with either club or country during consecutive calendar years.
The sharp-shooter's title-winning streak started at EuroBasket 2009 and continued with FC Barcelona winning the Euroleague in 2010 and Spain defending their EuroBasket title last summer.
BIGGER THAN LIFE CLUBS, GREAT COACHES
The four contenders for the 2012 Euroleague crown, CSKA Moscow, Panathinaikos, FC Barcelona and Olympiacos, are among the most celebrated clubs in the continent and have won the title at least once in the not so distant past.
Real Madrid have missed out on the Istanbul showdown, but their fans will definitely be watching closely and rooting for the winner of the semi-final between Olympiacos and... FC Barcelona to go all the way!
|A European title every single year with either club or country? If anyone can pull it off, that's FC Barcelona and Spain captain Juan Carlos Navarro|
That is of course only because if either CSKA or Panathinakos win the trophy, it will be their seventh and they will breathing down the neck of the Spanish powrhouse, who is still the most succesful club with eight titles but have not won it since 1995, when an Arvydas Sabonis-led dream team swept aside Olympiacos in the final.
Zeljiko Obradovic, the architect of Panathinaikos' enormous success in the last 12 years, was at the helm of that team.
His opposite numbers at the 2012 Final Four, CSKA coach Jonas Kazlauskas, FC Barcelona coach Xavi Pascual and Olympiacos coach Dusan Ivkovic, have also been there, done that and got the t-shirt.
Ivkovic, now aged 69, could become the eldest coach to lead a team to the Euroleague title, if Olympiacos are proclaimed champions on Sunday night.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
If the Serbian maestro adds a ninth to his collection this weekend, he will have built an almost unsurpassable lead over Ettore Messina and Bozjdar Maljkovic, who are trailing with four.
The late Alexander Gomelsky and Pedro Ferrándiz are also on four titles.
Another European legend that can rest safe in the knowledge that he has a healthy advantage over his pursuers is one that won't even be competing in Istanbul.
Italian legend Dino Meneghin is the player with the most titles under his belt, seven.
Jasikevicius might decrease the gap somewhat if Panathinaikos win on Sunday as it will be his fifth, and he will be level on bragging rights with former teammate Fragiskos Alvertis, who is now sitting on the Greens' bench next to coach Obradovic.