The Club Scene: MBC Dynamo Moscow

Jan 12, 2005 by Javier Gancedo, Print
The Club Scene: MBC Dynamo Moscow
Dynamo MoscowIf the ULEB Cup is a mix of historic names among Europe's traditional basketball powers with up-and-coming clubs that want to be just as well known in the future, then MBC Dynamo Moscow can be said to have one foot planted strongy in each of those categories. Old enough to have been founded about the same time as the former Soviet Union and to have won titles there almost 70 years ago, Dynamo can also be called a truly modern club that was rebuilt entirely this decade. That rebuilding project has reached a major moment with the arrival of the ULEB Cup semifinals, in which Dynamo faces former champion Hapoel Jerusalem in games on March 21 and 28. With Evgeny Gomelsky representing the country's greatest basketball family as club president and coaching legend Dusan Ivkovic on the bench, there is no doubt about the serious ambition of Dynamo to put its name among Europe's true elite. Winning the ULEB Cup crown would not only give Dynamo its first continental trophy, but qualify the club to play in next year's Euroleague. If that happens, past and present will unite in success under one great name, Dynamo.

Dynamo Moscow, created in 1923 when Russia was part of the Soviet Union (USSR), is among the oldest sports clubs in the country. Its name was chosen becase Dynamo means 'power in motion'. The club was backed by the State Political Directorate (GPU), a police apparatus of the USSR. That is why the team has always been thought of as the police club, while cross-town rival CSKA Moscow was the army club. However,the connection between the police and the sportsmen at Dynamo has been almost non-existent in recent years. Dynamo quickly earned a reputation outside the Soviet Union borders due to its success in major sports such as football, handball, ice hockey and, of course, basketball. Dynamo Moscow won the USSR Championship in 1937 and 1948 and also made it to the final in 1944. Its women's basketball section was also successful, making it to the first-ever Women's Euroleague final in 1958.

Over the decades, Dynamo earned a reputation for being among the strongest teams nationally and around the continent. Dynamo finished third in the Soviet Union League standings in 1946, 1957 and 1958, as well as making it to the 1950 and 1952 USSR Cup final. Years of domestic obscurity followed in which the team could not achieve any remarkable domestic success, although it reached the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup tournament in 1968, losing to Slavia Prague. Dynamo finished third in the USSR League between 1975 and 1977, and then again in 1980 and 1982. CSKA was the main club in the country in those days, winning 15 Soviet Union League titles between 1969 and 1984. Dynamo joined the Russian League once the Soviet Union disappeared as a unit in 1991, and even finished third in the CIS (Community of Independent States) League in 1992.

The team found new success outside its domestic borders in the mid-1990s. Dynamo made it all the way to the Saporta Cup semifinal in 1991, losing to eventual champ PAOK Thessaloniki. Dynamo fell in the first leg of their two-way semifinals 95-82 but won in Moscow 75-63, so ended up losing the series by one point in dramatic fashion. The team also qualified for the Korac Cup in 1992, 1994 and 1995 without much success, despite having players like Sergei Bazarevich, Pavel Astakhov, Sergei Babenko or Evgeni Pashutin. Things changed in 1996, however, as Dynamo shined in the 1996 Saporta Cup. The club brought in players like Bazarevich, Vitaly Nosov, Igor Gratchev and Valeri Daineko, who averaged 21.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in the tournament. Dynamo went all the way from the previous round, survived the group stage and made it to the best-of-three semifinals playoffs. Tau Ceramica swept the series with a 87-98 road win in Moscow and a 104-93 home thriumph in Vitoria, and it went on to win the title against PAOK. The club could not live up to the expectations and one year after that, in 1997, Dynamo Moscow disappeared due to financial reasons despite having played the Euroleague for the first time in club history.

It wasn't until 2001 when Dynamo reappeared in the Russian basketball scene. MBC Dynamo Moscow was created under the support of the Dynamo society and its chairman Vladimir Pronichev. Dynamo entered the Russian League second division in the 2001-02 season and won the title that very same year, returning to the elite of Russian basketball. The club had to face new financial problems but once again the Dynamo organization, led by chairman Victor Zakharov and his assistant Vladimir Mikhalevsky, stepped up to solve all troubles and give the team the economic stability it needed. MBC Dynamo Moscow joined the Dynamo organization in Moscow City and found a new president in Evgeny Gomelsky, brother of the legendary coach and former CSKA president, the late Aleksandar Gomelsky. Dynamo finished sixth in the 2002-03 Russian League with players like Nikita Morgunov, Martin Muursepp, Bazarevich, Aleksander Milosserdov or Dmitry Domani, who remains now as the team captain. Dynamo did even better in the 2003-04 season, in which players like Nikos Ekonomou, Jimmy Oliver, Nikolay Padius, Damir Mrsic and the late Kenyon Jones helped the team to make it to the Russian League semifinals. CSKA swept its semifinal series against Dynamo, but the team managed to clinch a berth for the 2004-05 ULEB Cup. Moreover, Dynamo did well in the FIBA Europe league and made it to the quarterfinals, losing then to Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Dynamo continues taking steps forward and making a big financial effort to incorporate some of the best European players in the market. As such, for 2004-05, Dynamo signed the Euroleague all-time top rebounder, Mirsad Turkcan, the 2003-04 Euroleague regular season top scorer Lynn Greer, center Lazaros Papadopoulos and solid, well-rounded veterans such as Arriel McDonald, Trajan Langdon, Ksystof Lavrinovic and Andrei Fetisov. Dynamo won difficult Group D in the ULEB Cup regular season and was considered a top candidate to go far in the elimination rounds, especially when the team won the first leg of the two-way eighthfinals series on the road against Hemofarm, 81-84, behind 30 points from Greer. It wasn't enough, however, as Hemofarm provided the upset in the second leg with a 75-96 road win in Moscow thanks to some incredible three-point shooting, most of it in the second half. Hemofarm made 12 of 13 shots from downtown overall, with 8 of them coming as the visitors rolled to big leads in the second half before a stunned Moscow crowd. Dynamo recovered and made it to the Russian League finals, taking a 0-1 lead against CSKA in the best-of-five finals. It happened to be CSKA's only domestic loss of the season, as it then won three consecutive games to take the series 3-1. As runner-up, Dynamo qualified to the ULEB Cup for the second consecutive season.

Dynamo once again has a competitive roster in which Papadopoulos, Domani and Valentin Koubrakov returned to be joined by some team-oriented players such as Ruben Douglas, Mire Chatman, Bojan Popovic, Hanno Mottola and Antonios Fotsis. Moreover, Dynamo landed one of the best head coaches in European basketball history, none other than the legendary Dusan Ivkovic. Dynamo was once again placed in arguably the toughest regular season pool, but managed to win Group D and went game by game in order to reach the ULEB Cup semifinals. Dynamo has advanced by sweeping Spirou Charleroi in the eighthfinals and Crvena Zvezda in the quarterfinals. With the right environment, a solid roster, a great coach and the hunger to win its first-ever European title, the sky is the limit for the reborn, reloaded MBC Dynamo Moscow.