|13 April 2012|
BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|The 2011 FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year, Jonas Valanciunas of Lietuvos Rytas, made the All-Eurocup First Team |
One of the star attractions at last year's EuroChallenge Final Four was KRKA Novo Mesto coach Aleksandar Dzikic.
The Serbian tactician guided KRKA to the title and was hailed as one of the brightest minds in the business.
This season, Dzikic has been at the helm of Lithuanian giants Lietuvos Rytas and once again, he has arrived at an end-of-season showpiece event.
Dzikic has steered the Vilnius club into the Eurocup Finals.
On Saturday in Moscow, Lietuvos Rytas will go up against Valencia Basket in one Semi-Final while in the other, BC Khimki will meet Spartak Saint Petersburg - another of the EuroChallenge Final Four sides from 2011.
Dzikic attempted to lead Lietuvos Rytas into the Turkish Airlines Euroleague but they were unsuccessful in the Qualifying Round.
A victory in the Eurocup would earn the team a place in next season's Euroleague.
Dzikic is proud of his players.
"I am coaching a group of hard-nosed, persistent, disciplined guys," he said at the Eurocup Finals press conference attended by all of the team's coaches.
KRKA didn't have the biggest of budgets. Dzikic says it's been a similar situation with Lietuvos Rytas.
With hard work and determination, all things are possible.
"We are here to represent the Lietuvos Rytas way of managing basketball," Dzikic said, "meaning that we still have to be competitive even if we can't afford what other teams have.
"Still, we are here, not accepting the underdog role, and ready to play against Valencia."
Dzikic is just one of three coaches at the Eurocup Finals from the former Yugoslavia.
The boss of Valencia is Velimir Perasovic, and Spartak's coach is former Slovenia national team boss Jure Zdovc.
Their presence at the Eurocup Finals is further proof that many of the top coaches hail from the Balkans.
|Valencia's backcourt features sharp-shooters Rafa Martinez and French international Nando De Colo |
The figure getting most of the attention for Lietuvos Rytas is 19-year-old center Jonas Valanciunas, the 2011 FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year.
Valanciunas shone for Lithuania last summer at the EuroBasket and has been awarded the Rising Star Trophy in the Eurocup.
He has also made the All-Eurocup First Team, a huge honour for a teenager and indication that great things are in his future.
Valanciunas was last summer chosen sixth overall by the Toronto Raptors in the NBA Draft.
VALENCIA, EUROCUP 2012 WINNERS
The road to the Eurocup Finals for Valencia, meanwhile, has had a lot of bumps.
Paco Olmos was in charge of the team at the beginning of the campaign but was let go in mid-season with Perasovic taking over.
The team has been performing very well under Perasovic, and there are a host of European national team players in the line-up.
Valencia have a EuroBasket gold-medal winner in Victor Claver of Spain, silver-medal winners in French pair Nando de Colo and Florent Pietrus.
The team also has Serbia national team playmaker Stefan Markovic and Ukraine center Serhiy Lishchuk.
"We want to win this trophy and play in the Euroleague," said Perasovic, who has been so good at Valencia that the club has rewarded him with a two-year contract extension.
"In this sense, I think that all the games we are going to see here are going to be tough and intense, with a winner who deserves it."
THE RUSSIAN SHOWDOWN
In the all-Russia Semi-Final are a couple of coaches who, like Perasovic, once played the game at the highest level: Spartak's Zdovc and Khimki's Rimas Kurtinaitis.
|Spartak have a formidable frontcourt, which includes Slovenian international Miha Zupan |
Spartak made it through the Eurocup Qualifying Round that was organised by FIBA Europe.
The team beat Cypriots ETHA Engomi over two legs to reach the Regular Season and have made the most of the opportunity.
"If I am correct," Zdovc said, "we are here with three teams that played in the Euroleague last year, so maybe Spartak is the newcomer.
"But that doesn't mean we don't have high expectations.
"We play a very good Khimki team in the first game, and we play in their home arena.
"We know them and they know us, as we've played twice already this season. So there are no big secrets.
"What I promise is that we will give our maximum to do everything tomorrow and to play a good Semi-Final."
In the Spartak side coached by Zdovc is one of his compatriots, Slovenia international Miha Zupan.
The team has national team players from Latvia (Janis Strelnieks), Israel (Yotam Halperin), Russia (Aleksey Zozulin) and Greece (Loukas Mavrokefalides).
There is also Patrick Beverley, the terrific playmaker in the Spartak side that reached last year's EuroChallenge Final Four.
Beverley is not only an All-Eurocup First Team selection along with Valanciunas and Lithuania international Renaldas Seibutis (Lietuvos Rytas), Nik Caner-Medley (Valencia) and Croatia international Zoran Planinic (BC Khimki).
Beverley is also this season's Eurocup MVP.
Khimki coach Kurtinaitis, meanwhile, has led Lietuvos Rytas before.
And like Zdovc, he was once a big star himself as a player.
Kurtinaitis was a teammate of Arvydas Sabonis in great Lithuania national teams.
At Khimki, he has done very well with Russia internationals Vitaly Fridzon, Sergey Monya, Dimitriy Khvostov and Alexey Zhukanenko, France sharpshooter Mickael Gelabale, Croatia's Planinic and Kresimir Loncar and Poland's Thomas Kelati.
"I am the only one from the Soviet age here fighting against three former Yugoslavia coaches," Kurtinaitis said.
"It's difficult for me, but all teams are equal and have equal chances."