BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Alex Mumbru is one of a number of decorated players taking to the court for Bilbao Basket on Saturday|
Two highly ambitious clubs square off for the first European title in their history on Saturday, and will force some former EuroBasket champions to look for free space in already crowded trophy cases.
A total of 17 European players who, at one point or another, have represented their country in a national team jersey will take to the floor in the Eurocup final between Russian side Lokomotiv Kuban and Spanish Uxue Bilbao Basket in Charleroi, Belgium.
Greece captain Nikos Zisis, former Spanish international Alex Mumbru and former Russian international Alexey Savrasenko are the stars of this 17-strong constellation with the most valuable silverware in their possession.
Raul Lopez of Spain and Sergei Bykov of Russia are the other two players among Saturday's finalists to have tasted EuroBasket glory.
Zisis - who will play for Bilbao on Saturday - was a linchpin of the Greek national side that conquered EuroBasket gold in 2005 in Belgrade, silver at the 2006 World Championship and then reached third place on the podium at EuroBasket 2009.
At club level, the guard has won three Italian championships with Montepaschi Siena and one with Benetton Treviso, two Russian league titles with CSKA Moscow and one Greek championship with AEK Athens.
The impressive league record of Zisis is complemented by six domestic cup titles in the same countries, while he was also crowned Euroleague champion in 2008, with CSKA Moscow.
His team-mate Alex Mumbru meanwhile, knows what it feels like to have stood at the summit of both Europe and the world.
Bilbao's small-forward was on the Spain side that conquered gold at the 2006 World Championship, took silver at EuroBasket 2007 and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and then concluded his international career with another gold medal, Spain's first at a EuroBasket, in 2009.
Mumbru has also won the Spanish ACB title and the ULEB Cup with Real Madrid, as well as the EuroChallenge with Joventut Badalona in 2006.
Savrasenko meanwhile was on the Russia side that stunned hosts Spain to take gold at EuroBasket 2007.
The 34-year-old Lokomotiv center has collected an enviable three Euroleague titles, with Olympiacos in 1997 and CSKA Moscow in 2006 and 2008, while he also won six domestic league titles with the Russian powerhouse.
Bykov was a team-mate of Savraskenko in that golden Russian side at EuroBasket 2007 and he remained a senior international until EuroBasket 2011, conquering bronze with David Blatt's team in Lithuania that year.
At club level, the Lokomotiv guard has won an ULEB Cup with Dynamo Moscow and a Russian League title with CSKA Moscow.
Meanwile Bilbao's 33-year-old point guard Lopez was a team-mate of Mumbru on the Spanish national team that reached EuroBasket glory in 2009 and the Real Madrid side that won the ULEB Cup in 2006, while he has also conquered a VTB United League title with Khimki Moscow Region.
Saturday's Eurocup final is attracting enormous interest not only in Russia and Spain, but also in Lithuania and Greece, who have strong representation in the game.
|Nick Calathes is another Greek international to be featuring on Saturday|
Mantas Kalnietis and Simas Jasaitis, both on Lokomotiv, were also team-mates on the impressive Lithuania side that surprised everyone by reaching a bronze medal success at the 2010 World Championship.
Jasaitis was also a member of the national team when the Baltic nation took bronze at EuroBasket 2007, behind Russia and Spain.
Their team-mate Nick Calathes, who leads the competition in assists and was named Eurocup MVP on Wednesday, made his debut with the senior Greek national team at EuroBasket 2009 and won a bronze medal.
Another Greek international, the sharp-shooting Kostas Vasileiadis, is Bilbao's second-leading scorer and a team-mate of Axel Hervelle, a star on the national team of Belgium, the host country of the final.
Milovan Rakovic of Serbia, Fran Pilepic of Croatia, Adrien Moerman of France and Roger Grimau of Spain are the rest of Bilbao players that have represented their country, either at youth or senior level.
On the Krasnodar team, Maxim Grigoryev, Andrey Zubkov and Maxim Sheleketo have all played for Russia in youth European Championships while Aleks Maric, who has Serbian origins, is an Australian international.
Adding further spice to the Saturday final is the particular battle of the benches, as Lokomotiv head coach Evgeny Pashutin was a candidate to take the reins of the Russian national team after Blatt's departure, a role that was finally assigned to his opposite number at Bilbao, Greek tactician Fotis Katsikaris, in December.