Turkish Airlines Euroleague
May 25, 2013
The Club Scene: KRKA Novo Mesto
Over more than five decades, Krka Novo Mesto has managed to go from an afterthought to being the reigning Slovenian League and EuroChallenge champion. It has been a tough yet successful road for Krka, which was founded in the late 1940s and has turned Novo Mesto into a basketball-crazy city. Krka won its first Slovenian League title in 2000 - led by a young Matjaz Smodis, who would go on to become a European basketball legend - and has challenged Union Olimpija from that moment. Despite not playing the Eurocup since its original season, Krka is a historic team in the competition. In 2002-03, Krka beat all expectations and made it to the two-game ULEB Cup finals in spectacular fashion. Krka is now back to the Eurocup not as a former team that did well eight years ago, but as a continental champ and two-time defending domestic champion, so all Novo Mesto fans should be ready to expect good things from their proud, competitive team.
The club was founded in Novo Mesto back in 1948 but it wasn't until 1956, when head coach Lujo Lampic inspired a new generation of players, that the sport took off at regional levels. In 1962, Novo Mesto won the Ljubljana League coached by Dr. Ales Grandovec. It kept developing and was able to practice in a high school gym in winter, which led to good results and basketball to become a very popular sport in Novo Mesto. By the end of the 1960s, Novo Mesto was established in the Slovenian second division. In 1970, a 72-60 win over Prule sent the team to the Slovenian first division. Novo Mesto was seventh in its debut first division season in 1970-71. Andrej Petric was chosen as the 1971 Coach of the Year and basketball finally became the most popular sport in the city, surpassing volleyball.
A new arena, Marof Sports Hall, was built in 1975, but seven active players stopped playing basketball. Nevertheless the team kept competing in the first Slovenian division, back then a third-level league in the former Yugoslavia. Things changed in the 1976-77 season when Novo Mesto, coached by Joze Splichal, finished second in the Slovenian first division and earned the right to play in the Yugoslavian second league. In a very thrilling game, Krka edged Triglav Kranj to win 76-74 and gain promotion to the next level - a great success by all means. Novo Mesto could not keep its place in the Yugoslavian second league, but reloaded for the club's 30th anniversary. The team got stronger and hosted a series of top-level international games in the country. Novo Mesto failed to return immediately to the Yugoslavia second division, but did so at the end of the 1979-80 season once the competition system was rebuilt. The club kept its name at that level for two years and despite being relegated again, Novo Mesto won its first title, becoming the Republican Champion. Years of obscurity followed in the late 1980s and the early 1990s but the foundation of a big team was laid.
A new era started for Novo Mesto basketball in 1992, when the club was reborn to bring an elite team back in the city. Kosarkarski klub Novo Mesto 92 had two sections for young and older players, financially separate and managed by a board, with the help of Novo Mesto's sports federations and the city's municipality. The club started to compete in the Slovenian fourth division and was promoted to the next level after one year. By 1995, Novo Mesto reached the Slovenian second division and a young power forward arrived to the team to become the biggest player in club history – Smodis. Novo Mesto was promoted to the Slovenian elite in 1997, when it took the name of its sponsor, Krka. It enjoyed an outstanding 1997-98 season when it finished fourth overall and earned the right to play in European competition – the Korac Cup – for the first time. Smodis was already recognized as one of the best young players in Europe.
Former Euroleague champion Ivo Nakic, Smodis and Simon Petrov led Krka to a very good Korac Cup debut. The team survived the group stage with a 5-1 record. Eventual champion FC Barcelona, however, stood in its way in the sixteenth-finals. Krka also placed third in Slovenia and qualified for the next season’s Saporta Cup. The 1999-00 season was a turning point for the club. Smodis and Nakic stayed as the team's stars and the team got to the Saporta Cup two-game elimination rounds before losing to Italian powerhouse Adecco Olimpia Milano on point differential. Back home, an outstanding Smodis led Krka to its first Slovenian League title. Krka became the first club to dethrone Union Olimpija after Slovenia became an independent country. Smodis left and ended up winning three Euroleague titles – one with Kinder Bologna in 2001 and two with CSKA in 2006 and 2008 – but Krka kept making noise in international competitions. Bennet Davison, J. P. Courtney and Dragisa Drobnjak allowed Krka to reach the 2000-01 SuproLeague eighthfinals before going out against eventual finalist Panathinaikos.
Krka made its Euroleague debut in 2001-02 and found a new superstar in Jaka Lakovic, who averaged 30 points in the first three games in the competition and had one of the best-ever individual performances – 38 points, 7 assists, 15 fouls drawn and a 55 performance index ranking – in a road win against Real Madrid. The team also reached the Slovenian League and the newborn Adriatic League finals, but lost both titles to Union Olimpija. In 2002, Krka inked Jamie Arnold, Marton Bader and Marko Maravic, brought back Nakic and had a new reference in point guard in Aleksandar Capin. The club competed in another new European competition, the ULEB Cup, where it downed Pivovarna Lasko, Caprabo Lleida and DKV Joventut - rallying from a 13-point first-leg deficit - in the two-game elimination rounds to reach the title series against Pamesa Valencia. Even though Valencia ended up becoming the original ULEB Cup champion, Krka rounded out a great season by lifting its second Slovenian League trophy and returning to the Euroleague.
Despite playing the 2003-04 Euroleague, Krka lost its competitiveness and stayed away from the Slovenian League semifinals for four long years. Things started to come back into place in the 2007-08 season, as Krka finished third in the Slovenian League and earned the right to return to the Adriatic League. The next season veteran shooter Davor Marcelic, scoring ace Richard Shields and center Smiljan Pavic could not keep the team in the Adriatic League, but helped Krka to return to the Slovenian League semifinals. In 2009-10, Krka brought in Aleksandar Dzikic as head coach and used Pavic as its main reference in the paint. Krka Novo Mesto won its third Slovenian League title by downing Olimpija 2-3 in the title game. In a do-or-die Game 5, Marcelic scored 24 points and Pavic posted 14 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks as Krka beat Union Olimpija 79-87 in front of a stunned Hala Tivoli. Moreover, Krka would return to European competitions for the first time in seven years - and would do so in style.
Krka managed to put a competitive roster featuring Pavic, Drobnjak, Petrov, Goran Ikonic, Zoran Dragic, Chris Booker and Dusan Djordjevic, with Dzikic back to coach the team. Krka survived the 2010-11 EuroChallenge regular season, went 5-1 record in the round of 16 and despite losing the first leg at home, overcame Lukoil Academic in the two-game quarterfinals to make it to the final four in Oostende, Belgium. Ikonic scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half to lead Krka to a 79-65 win in the semifinals against Telenet Oostende for a spot in the title game against Lokomotiv Kuban. Krka made the most of that opportunity to conquer its first-ever European title, by downing Loko 77-83 with 20 points from Booker. The club also had a successful return to the Adriatic League and made it to the Final Four. Krka managed to successfully defend its Slovenian League title by edging Olimpija 3-2 in the finals. Once again, it all went down to Game 5, in which Krka prevailed 64-57 behind 14 points from Jure Balazic.
Now Krka is back to the Eurocup for the first time since reaching the finals in 2003. The competition has developed a lot since those days, but one thing is for certain - Krka is used to proving everyone wrong and is ready to challenge some of the best Eurocup teams out there just by being loyal to its own tradition and reputation.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Javier Gancedo, Eurocupbasketball.com