|10 May 2013|
EUROLEAGUE FINAL FOUR
|Vassilis Spanoulis already has the season MVP trophy in his pocket, but will he once again be cutting off the nets on Sunday?|
Vassilis Spanoulis and defending Turkish Airlines Euroleague champions Olympiacos received a morale boost on the eve of the competition's Final Four, when the Greek international was named season MVP.
In the nine years since the Euroleague MVP award has taken into consideration the entire season (up to the Final Four) there has been only one occasion when the team of its recipient did not win the title or at least reach the final.
Juan Carlos Navarro earned season MVP honours in 2009, upon his return to FC Barcelona from the Memphis Grizzlies, but Panathinaikos and CSKA Moscow were the finalists in Berlin, with the Athenian club prevailing 73-71 to lift the trophy.
Spanoulis averaged 14.7 points (down from 16.7 last year) and 5.6 assists (career-best) this season to lead Olympiacos to Final Four 2013 in London.
The Greek guard already has in his possession two Euroleague titles, two Euroleague Final Four MVP awards, one EuroBasket gold medal (2005), one World Championship silver medal (2006) and a bronze medal from EuroBasket 2009.
The majority of his team-mates can boast of at least one Euroleague title, as Olympiacos' roster largely remains unchanged from last season.
Stratos Perperoglou was not in the side last year but has conquered the title with Panathinaikos and he was a team-mate of Spanoulis on the Greece team that won bronze at EuroBasket 2009, as was Georgios Printezis.
Despite all these achievements and the fact they are the reigning champions, Olympiacos have the least awe-inspiring roster out of the four contenders in London, in terms at least of accumulated titles and individual awards.
Their semi-final opponents, CSKA Moscow, are the only team in this Final Four to have two FIBA Europe Player of the Year award winners in their ranks, Milos Teodosic and Theo Papaloukas, who will make a record ninth appearance at a Euroleague Final Four.
The Greek veteran led the Russian powerhouse to two Euroleague titles (2006 and 2008) during his previous stint at the club, has earned one Final Four and one season MVP award, and was a key player to his national team's success at EuroBasket 2005 and World Championship 2006.
The Serbian guard meanwhile has still not won a Euroleague title but led his national team to the silver medal at EuroBasket 2009, alongside center Nenad Krstic, who will also suit up for CSKA in London.
Russian star Victor Khryapa meanwhile, who has had an excellent season in the Euroleague this year, was instrumental in Russia's conquest of the EuroBasket 2007 crown and their podium finish at EuroBasket 2011 and London 2012 while, just like Papaloukas, he was on the CSKA side that won the Euroleague in 2008.
Fellow Russian international Anton Ponkrashov has in his collection the exact same medals as Khryapa with the national team, while center Sasha Kaun was on the team that took bronze in the London Olympics.
'EL CLASICO' OF MEDAL COLLECTORS
|Juan Carlos Navarro and FC Barcelona are again aming for the sky|
The combined silverware of the stars that will clash in the all-Spanish semi-final between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona would be enough to cover the surface of a basketball court, perhaps twice times over.
Lithuanian legend Sarunas Jasikevicius of Barcelona is the only of the players who will be competing in London to have won the Euroleague title on four occasions, and the only player in the last two decades to have done so with three different clubs (Maccabi Tel Aviv, Panathinaikos and Barcelona during his first spell with the Catalans).
In a national team jersey, Jasikevicius has won a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympics, gold at EuroBasket 2003 and bronze in the same championship in 2007.
His title collection at that level though pales in comparison to that of his team's captain and the captain of their arch-rivals.
Felipe Reyes is, along with Pau Gasol, the most decorated Spanish basketball player in the history of the sport and Juan Carlos Navarro has just one title less, but at junior level.
As team-mates on the senior Spanish national team, the duo have collected gold at EuroBasket 2011 and EuroBasket 2009, gold at the 2006 World Championship, silver at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, EuroBasket silver in 2003 and in 2007, and bronze at EuroBasket 2001.
Real's Rudy Fernandez is younger than his two multi-winning compatriots and joined the Spanish senior golden generation later, in 2004, which means that his collection is only one bronze and one silver short of the unsurpassed eight-medal strong trophy cases of Navarro and Reyes.
His team-mate Sergio Rodriguez was on the Spanish team that were crowned world champions in 2006 and won the silver medals of 2007 and 2012, while Sergio Llull was been a mainstay on the national team uninterruptedly since EuroBasket 2009, which translates into two golden and one silver medal.
Their rival on Friday Victor Sada was also on the Spanish team in 2011 and in 2012 but their Madrid colleague Martynas Pocius, who won bronze at the 2010 World Championship with Lithuania, is out of action with injury and will not feature in London.
Perhaps crucially though, no player on the Madrid roster, not even Reyes, has ever tasted the joy of a Euroleague title.
On the Barcelona side however, in addition to the four-time winner Jasikevicius, Navarro has conquered the trophy twice, in 2003 and 2010, when he was also named Final Four MVP, with Sada and Slovenian international Erazem Lorbek also part of that team that reached the top of the podium in Paris.