|When the 2012 Eurocup Finals touch down in Khimki, Russia one month from today to decide a new champion of the competition, it will mark the completion of a remarkable road to basketball prominence for that young city. Founded northwest of Moscow in the late 1930s, Khimki has become a European basketball hotspot in the new millennium behind the efforts of an even younger club, BC Khimki Moscow Region, whose achievements have been precocious, to say the least. Since its birth in 1997, Khimki has attracted some of the biggest names in Russian and international basketball in its efforts to join the basketball elite in Russia and beyond. Those ambitions have seen Khimki play in two European finals already and break the hegemony of one of the greatest dynasties ever, CSKA Moscow, to grab its only two trophies so far. Now in its fourth Eurocup season, Khimki has a golden chance to win its first European title, and by so doing earn the right to play the 2012-13 Turkish Airlines Euroleague. Not only does Khimki boast an 11-1 record in the 2011-12 Eurocup, but the Finals are played at its home court, the Basketball Center of Moscow Region. After knocking on success's door so many times, the time may be right for Khimki to lift its first continental trophy.
The club was founded on January 5, 1997 and started to compete in the Russian regional league. With aging legend Sergey Bazarevich as its first superstar, Khimki managed to reach the Russian first division in 1999, when former Soviet basketball legend Alexander Boloshev, an Olympic gold medalist in 1972, joined the team as sports director. His experience and reputation soon allowed Khimki to grow and get better at all levels. Boloshev, who passed away in 2010, was critical in bringing the club to its current glory days, and today, there is an international youth tournament in his name held in the city. Within a year of Boloshev's arrival, Khimki enjoyed a successful Russian League debut in the 1999-00 season with stars like Pavel Astakhov, Dmitri Volokhov and Alexander Kurtenok. Khimki finished ninth in the Russian League and went on to play in the 2000-01 Korac Cup, marking its debut in European competition.
Khimki added defensive-minded center Vitaly Nosov for its Korac Cup debut and downed Swedish side Sundsvall Dragons in the preliminary round. Despite beating all of its three opponents - Darussafaka, Levski and FMP - in the group stage, Khimki did not advance due to point differential. Back in Russia, Khimki made it to the playoffs and finished seventh overall. Mikhail Soloviev and Sergey Krasnikov became Khimki's new scoring references in 2001-02, when the club returned to the Korac Cup group stage and finished seventh in the Russian League after losing in the quarterfinals against another rising power, Unics. Alexander Petrenko joined the club in 2002-03 as Khimki played a new European competition, the FIBA Champions Cup. Khimki survived a regional phase to reach the pan-European group stage along with Aris, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Strasbourg. The club failed to reach the quarterfinals despite Petrenko's outstanding performance. It also reached the Russian Cup quarterfinals and placed fourth at the end of the Russian League regular season. Khimki knocked off Autodor Saratov in the playoff quarterfinals, but lost 3-1 against CSKA in the best-of-five semifinals and could not beat Unics in the third-place playoffs. Its good results, however, allowed Khimki to go one step higher financially speaking, and to put a stronger team together able to fight for bigger goals in 2003-04.
Point guard Vasily Karasev was the next Russian star to arrive in Khimki. His distribution skills helped maximize a strong frontline featuring Petrenko and Mikhail Soloviev. Khimki competed in the FIBA Europe League for the 2003-04 season and survived the first group stage, but lost against Ural Great in the eighthfinals. The club then stormed into the Russian Cup final four, but lost against CSKA in the semis. Khimki also returned to the Russian League playoffs and finished fifth overall. Before the start of the 2004-05 season, the team opted for the first time to bring in players from outside the former Soviet Unio. Sergei Elevitch remained as head coach, while Khimki signed Oscar Torres, Ruben Wolkowyski, Melvin Booker and Vladimir Vuksanovic. Khimki did better in the FIBA Europe League, winning its regular season group before downing Dijon and Unics to get to the semifinals in Istanbul, Turkey. Petrenko had 24 points in the make-or-break Game 3 of the quarterfinals to lead Khimki to a 98-80 win. Eventual champ Dynamo St. Petersburg stood in its way to success in the semifinal. Khimki got back to the Russian Cup and the Russian League semis, but CSKA stopped them in both competitions.
Khimki kept adding quality players to its roster such as Gianmarco Pozzecco, Boris Gorenc and future team captain Vitaly Fridzon. The club returned to FIBA's competition, now renamed the FIBA EuroCup, in the 2005-06 season. Led by Wolkowyski and Petrenko, Khimki survived two group stages and knocked off Dexia Mons-Hainaut to return to the semis in a rematch against Dynamo SPB. This time, Khimki held on to win 63-61 on a buzzer-beating shot by Torres, although Spanish powerhouse DKV Joventut ended up winning their final with a no-doubt-about-it 63-88 triumph. Back home, Khimki officially went several steps higher by reaching the Russian League and the Russian Cup finals, even though CSKA ended up winning the Triple Crown in 2006. Soon after that, Petrenko, then the team captain, tragically passed away in a car crash along with his wife and her parents on July 21, 2006. Khimki retired his No. 4 jersey and began an international tournament in his memory.
Khimki inked Kelly McCarty and Maciej Lampe before the start of the 2006-07 season, its first in Eurocup. The club survived the regular season, but lost against Crvena Zvezda, led by an unstoppable Milan Gurovic, in the eighthfinals. After losing three finals in 2005-06, the club wanted to lift a trophy to dedicate it to Petrenko, but despite reaching the Russian Cup final four and the Russian League semifinals, it did not get to play for a title. McCarty and Lampe returned in 2007-08 and Khimki brought in Anton Ponkrashov, Mike Wilkinson, Vladimir Veremeenko and Daniel Ewing. The club did better in the Eurocup, where it won its regular season group with an 8-2 record and swept Koeln 99ers in the Last 32 round. Just as in the 2006 FIBA EuroCup final, however, a young but very talented DKV Joventut swept Khimki in the Last 16 and went on to win the title. The long wait to win a title came to an end, however, as Khimki lifted the Russian Cup by thrashing CSKA 85-67 in the final behind 23 points and 13 rebounds from Lampe. Not only was CSKA that season's Euroleague champion, but Khimki became the first team to take a trophy from it in Russia since 2004.
Khimki, now with Sergio Scariolo as head coach, returned to the Eurocup in 2008-09 with new stars like Carlos Delfino and Jorge Garbajosa to complement Fridzon, McCarty and Lampe. Khimki won its regular season group and overcame a 0-2 start in the Last 16 to get to the Final Eight in Turin, Italy. The club downed Pamesa Valencia 73-76 in the quarterfinals and went on to beat iurbentia Bilbao Basket 79-73 behind 18 points from Delfino to get to the title game against Lietuvos Rytas, coached by the legendary Ritmas Kurtinaitis. Khimki led 49-62 late in the third quarter, but a 17-0 run and a critical triple by Steponas Babrauskas allowed Rytas to win the game in come-from-behind fashion. Khimki also lost the Russian Cup final against Triumph, but a second-place finish in the Russian League allowed the club to join the Euroleague in 2009-10.
Scariolo brought in Keith Langford, Robertas Javtokas, Raul Lopez and Carlos Cabezas to play alongside McCarty and Timofey Mozgov, thus putting together a very experienced squad for its Euroleague debut. Khimki lived up to the expectations by winning its first three home games – including its first-ever Euroleague showdown against Real Madrid – and stole a couple of road wins to place third in its regular season group with a 6-4 record. However Khimki had to face Cibona, Olympiacos and Caja Laboral in the Top 16, and despite beating all of them, a 3-3 record and a fourth-level tie-break disadvantage against Laboral prevented the club from reaching the playoffs. Khimki went on to beat Unics 3-2 in a thrilling best-of-five semifinal series to return to the Russian League finals against CSKA. Khimki was once again defeated, but earned a berth in the 2010-11 Euroleague Qualifying Rounds, in which the team went undefeated for six games to return to Europe's signature competition.
Despite landing Ben Eze, Travis Hansen, Thomas Kelati and Zoran Planinic, Khimki did not advance past the regular season and Coach Scariolo parted ways with the club. Khimki regrouped during the season and hirded Kurtinaitis as head coach in March. He soon helped the club get back to the Russian League finals and win the first edition of the VTB United League by downing CSKA 64-66 in the title game behind 18 points from Kresimir Loncar. This season, Khimki could not get through the Euroleague Qualifying Rounds, but has been able to get to the Eurocup Quarterfinals by winning 11 of its 12 games until now. No team will be more motivated in the quarterfinals, as Coach Kurtinaitis will try to offer all Khimki fans the title he took away from them in 2009 - and on the team’s very own home court.