|15 March 2013|
|Vladimir Veremeenko and his coach David Blatt exchanging high fives during Dynamo St. Petersburg's perfect season|
Krasnye Krylia defeated Telekom Baskets Bonn 95-85 on Thursday night and became only the second team, in the 10-season long history of the competition, to reach the EuroChallenge Final Four undefeated.
Back in the 2004/05 season another Russian side, Dynamo St. Petersburg, had reached the Final Four (of the then FIBA Europe League) with a perfect 18-0 record and went on to conquer the title.
Krasnye Krylia have managed to equal the feat after a 14-game long campaign, but the changes in the competition format that shortened the schedule occurred already in 2005/06 and no other team had emulated the example of the St. Petersburg side since then.
That Dynamo team did not have big-name stars on their roster, but were guided by an almost too-good-to-be-true coaching duo.
David Blatt, who later took on the Russian national team and led them to the EuroBasket 2007 gold medal and is now at the helm of Euroleague powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv, was Dynamo's head coach.
Kestutis Kemzura, who later became the Lithuanian national team head coach, was his assistant.
There is a similarity between these two Russian teams, in that they owe a great part of their success to firm leadership from the bench.
Krasnye Krylia head coach Sergey Bazarevich stood out for his vision of the game and clear mind during his on-court career as a playmaker, and has transferred this skills to his coaching approach, to the point where he is considered today one of the most formidable Russian coaches.
Talented coaches and an unbeaten record in the EuroChallenge is however the only things these two fellow Russian clubs have in common.
The ambitious Dynamo erupted onto the big scene of European basketball with a bang, but the project was short-lived as the club dissolved after a couple of enormously successful seasons, due to financial difficulties.
Krasnye Krylia on the other hand are a well established club that has represented the city of Samara for decades.
Their biggest success so far has been a runners-up spot in the 2010 edition of the EuroChallenge, when they were defeated 83-75 by BG Göttingen in the final.
SAMARA WAS NOT BUILT IN A DAY
|The Red Wing's top scorer: Chester Simmons|
There are no survivors from that 2010 Krasnye Krylia squad still on the team three years later, but Bazarevich was at the helm last season, when the Samara side even failed to pass to the EuroChallenge Regular Season, losing to fellow Russians Triumph Lyubertsy in the qualifiers.
Triumph went on to reach the Final Four and claim third place, and Krasnye Krylia took some valuable lessons, which they are applying to perfection this season.
They kept only three players on the roster, young forward Nikita Balashov, shooting guard Evgeny Kolesnikov and point guard Aaron Miles, who is the extension of his coach on the court.
All three have vindicated Bazarevich's trust by improving visibly this year, and Miles in particular leads both the EuroChallenge and the VTB United league in assists this season.
He dished out 10 final passes to his team-mates in Thursday's decider, remaining cool as ice in the clutch.
The addition of small forward Chester Simmons and power forward Andre Smith in the summer though is what has made an enormous difference this season, as the two of them combine for 29.6 points and 9.9 rebounds.
(NEAR) DEFEAT TEACHES YOU MORE THAN VICTORY
Bazarevich turns 48 on Saturday and his players could probably not have come up with a better gift than sweeping the quarter-final play-off series with Bonn and sparing him the headache of a do-or-die clash next Tuesday.
A gutsy Bonn side fought to the last man despite missing three players through injury (Benas Veikalas and Jamel McLean) and illness (Fabian Thülig) and took Game 2 into overtime, before Krasnye Krylia established their dominance with a 10-0 run in the extra period.
Due to weather conditions at Frankfurt airport, the Samara side did not reach their destination up until Wednesday night at 21:30, more than 24 hours after the end of Game 1.
Both opponents had to deal with fatigue, but Bazarevich also detected a certain degree of complacency from his players, following the comfortable 80-60 victory in Game 1 on Tuesday.
"At the beginning of the match, our players were still thinking about the 20 points' difference, which prevented us from having the proper attitude," he said.
"Bonn passed the ball well, punishing us on all fronts.
"However, mixed defence gave us a chance to catch up when we went down by 13 points."
Krasnye Krylia never came so close to seeing their perfect record snapping before, and Bazarevich had some valuable observations that might prepare his team for the semi-final clash against another formidable opponent, BCM Gravelines Dunkerque.
"It is highly unusual for us to give up 85 points but I had a feeling that we do not play our game.
"I am very happy that we won, and the course of this game will be a great experience for our team.
"We managed to stay patient and achieved the desired result."