BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Partizan Belgrade won the 1992 Euroleague Final in dramatic fashion, as Aleksandar Djordjevic sank a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer |
"You can't win anything with kids," British TV pundit Alan Hansen famously said about Manchester United after the opening day of the 1995/96 football season.
Alex Ferguson's team had sold three veteran players in the summer and lost 3-1 to Aston Villa in the opener.
They went on to win the English Premier League and FA Cup double that year.
If Hansen was a basketball fan, he would have known that a 22-year-old Dino Radja and a 21-year-old Toni Kukoc led Jugoplastika Split (now KK Split) to the Euroleague (European Championship for Men's Clubs) title in 1989.
Just to prove that the final in Munich was no fluke, the Croatian club went on to conquer two more consecutive European crowns before Kukoc and Radja parted for pastures new.
Bozidar Maljkovic's team was succeeded at the European summit by Partizan Belgrade in 1992.
Aleksander Djordjevic was 24 at the time and the second oldest player on the Serbian team's roster in the Istanbul final.
His buzzer-beating triple downed Joventut Badalona, 71-70, and gifted the Belgrade club their only Euroleague title so far.
Partizan's top scorer in the April final and throughout the season was a 22-year-old Predrag Danilovic.
The 7,000-strong crowd that witnessed Partizan's 87-72 victory over Besiktas JK Istanbul on Thursday night are well aware of this minor miracle of the glorious past.
The Thursday win was the Belgrade outfit's first in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague this season, in six games.
23-year-old swingman Dragan Milosavljevic led all Partizan scorers with 16 points. Forward Vladimir Lucic and center Dejan Musli contributed 14 points each.
Lucic played with the senior national team for the first time in the EuroBasket Qualification Round last summer.
Musli was the star of Serbia in the 2010 U20 European Championship and his team-mate Leo Westermann, who had 13 points and eight assists against Besiktas, was voted as the MVP of the same competition this past summer after leading France to the silver medal.
Latvia's young star Davis Bertans finished with six points and 18-year-old Nikola Milutinov with seven.
These players are the core of the new Partizan.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
They undergo an exhausting daily practice schedule, never less than six hours long, always physically demanding to 100%, Westermann explained to L'Equipe.
"I've never felt so tired in my life as after the game against CSKA Moscow (which Partizan lost 76-71 after overtime at home), I had a horrible headache," the French point guard confessed.
"The support of the fans was incredible, this is why I came here, to play against the best players and make it to the senior national team sooner."
The thousands of fans that scream their throats out during every game at Hala Pionir, are not under the illusion that this team is a Euroleague title-contender this season.
In fact, and despite Thursday's win, they will have a hard time even to qualify for the Top-16 of the competition as they are currently tied at the bottom of the group with Lietuvos Rytas and have to win at least two of their four remaining games in the Regular Season.
The fans have however full faith in a method that has been following the same pattern for decades.
It was born out of necessity, but it's following a well laid out design: Identify talented players, bring them in, make them work hard and then give them plenty of chances to play at the highest level.
It is by no means unique to Partizan, but the Belgrade club is the one that perfected this paradigm over the past decades.
|Dusko Vujosevic's trophy collection with Partizan Belgrade includes 10 domestic league titles as well as four Adriatic league crowns |
The architect of this system is coach Dusko Vujosevic.
He first took over as head coach in 1986 and led Partizan to the Euroleague Final Four the same year and the Korac Cup title one year later.
Legends like Vlade Divac, Zarko Paspalj as well as Danilovic and Djordevic made their first steps at Partizan during his tenure.
Nikola Pekovic of Montengro, Semih Erden of Turkey, Jan Vesely of the Czech Republic and almost half the players on the Serbia team that conquered silver at EuroBasket 2009 are all, to a bigger or smaller extent, products of this system in the past few years.
Vujosevic is now in his fourth spell at the club, having rejoined in the summer.
His previous period at the helm had lasted from 2001 to 2010.
"I am very pleased with this first win, but we deserved to have more victories by now, you remember how we lost the games against Barcelona and CSKA Moscow," said Vujosevic on Thursday, citing no less than two powerhouses of European basketball.
Besiktas coach Erman Kunter summed up the reasons for his team's defeat in two sentences.
"Partizan played with their heart tonight," he said.
"They are a young team that never gives up."