Turkish Airlines Euroleague
December 07, 2013
The Club Scene: Apoel Nicosia
by: Javier Gancedo, Eurocupbasketball.com
September 27, 2010
History can be made in the Eurocup Qualifying Rounds as Apoel Nicosia tries to become the first-ever Cypriot team in the competition. Apoel was close to reaching the Eurocup last season, but lost by 1 point against Teramo Basket in the 2009-10 Qualifying Round. The club hopes to use that experience to do better this season and overcome a tough opponent in Benetton Basket Bwin in the two-game qualifying tie. Far from being a new team in European competition, Apoel has a good tradition and a strong fan base that turn Lefkotheo Indoor Arena into one of toughest courts to visit in the entire continent. Apoel has lifted the Cypriot Cup trophy 11 times, more than any other club in the country, and also won 10 Cypriot League titles, including back-to-back crowns in the last two seasons. Even though its golden age came in the 1990s, Apoel comes off its best year in European competitions and is ready to keep making noise by making it to the Eurocup regular season.
Founded in 1926 as a football club, Apoel opened its basketball section in 1947, almost 20 years before the Cypriot League was formed. Once the competition started in 1966, Apoel became one of the top teams in the competition, but it didn't lift its first trophy - the Cypriot Supercup - until 1972. Apoel added a Cypriot Cup trophy in 1973 and finally won its first Cyriot League title in 1976, completing its long road to success. The club won both the Cypriot League and the Cypriot Cup titles in 1979 and made its debut in European competitions later on that year, losing the 1980 Saporta Cup two-game qualifying round series against CSKA Sofia. Despite winning another league title in 1981, the club needed several years to return to European competitions, but Apoel was not competitive enough to play at that level. In fact, Apoel registered a 192-116 road loss against Zadar in the 1985-86 Korac Cup first qualifying round. It is the highest accumulative score in a European club competitions game and Zdenko Babic of Zadar broke the all-time scoring record with 144 points in that game.
Basketball became more and more popular in Cyprus, causing teams to become more competitive. Apoel won Cypriot Cup titles in 1984 and 1986, but kept registering heavy losses in European competitions throughout the 1980s. Apoel reached its golden age in the 1990s, winning four Cypriot League and five Cypriot Cups between 1991 and 1999. Its best years were 1995 and 1996, in which Apoel managed to lift both trophies. Apoel needed 19 games to register its first-ever win in European competitions, when it managed to down Bulgarian side BK Plama Pleven 78-64 with Wayne Yearwood and John Taft as its foreign players. Pleven made it to the next round, but Apoel was on the right track. Once it became a dominant force in Cyprus in the mid-’90s, Apoel took part in the 1995-96 Euroleague qualifying round and was placed in the 1997 Saporta Cup group stage. Back-to-back Cypriot League titles followed in 1998 and 1999 as Apoel played in Europe against tough teams like Iraklis, Joventut and Ventspils. A 3-7 record in the 1999 Saporta Cup group stage showed that things were changing in Cypriot basketball, with Apoel as its biggest ambassador.
Apoel won a rare triple crown - League, Cup and Supercup titles - in 2002 with JoJo Garcia and Isaac Burton as its signature players. The club won its 11th cup title in 2003, but no more trophies came until 2009. In Europe, Apoel found its right place in the FIBA Europe Regional Challenge, a minor competition that would help the team improve its level. Apoel managed to land several experienced players to stay competitive at all levels, such as Mike Jones, Frankie King, Tyson Wheeler, Amir Tamit, Ousmane Cisse, Dusan Jelic and Aleksandar Radojevic. With Rasheed Brokenborough and veteran guard Panagiotis Serdaris as the team's references, Apoel overcame homecourt disadvantages in the series against AEK Limassol and Keravnos to win the Cypriot title - earning the right to fight for a Eurocup berth.
Apoel lost the chance to play the 2009-10 Eurocup despite taking a 14-point lead in the first leg of its two-game series against Teramo Basket. Its 15-point loss in Italy, including a missed last-second shot, prevented the team from reaching the Eurocup. Apoel, however, had a solid EuroChallenge season, downing teams like Khimik, Strasbourg, Chalon and Buducnost to make it to the Quarterfinals with Lewis Hopkins as its top gun. Back-to-back losses against Chorale Roanne prevented Apoel from reaching the final four. Back in Cyprus, Hopkins, Milan Dozet, Radojevic and Rashid Atkins helped Apoel down AEL in the finals - once again overcoming the home court disadvantage - to win its 10th league title. Now Apoel is back in the Eurocup qualifying round to give its best to go at least one step higher.