The Club Scene: MZT Skopje Aerodrom

Oct 25, 2016 by Igor Petrinovic, Print
The Club Scene: MZT Skopje Aerodrom

MZT Skopje Aerodrom, the reigning five-time champion of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, has filled its trophy case and built a winning mentality in recent years, but it hasn’t always been like that for the club. Patience has paid off with dividends lately for Skopje, which waited for exactly three decades to lift its first trophy, and almost half a century to become a champion of its country.

A group of enthusiasts led by the first club president Mile Melovski founded KK Skopje in the Macedonian capital in 1966, and the club started growing pretty fast locally due to the popularity of basketball. Within two years club started competing in the regional Macedonian league in the ex-Yugoslavia, and it did not take long for the club to aspire to a lot more. From 1970 until 1974, Skopje became a republic champion three times, but each time failed to get through qualifications and get promoted into a higher federal rank.

The re-organization of the competitions in Yugoslavia put Skopje into a division of the second Yugoslav League in 1974. First stint was a brief one as after its second season it was relegated back to the regional league. But with the arrival of coach Djikov Taki, Skopje returned into second division in 1979 with an intent to stay.

The next step came five years later, when in 1984 club went under the auspice of a local industrial giant, metal plant MZT, and got the name it carries to this day. It was an event that established the foundations for the club's continuing growth.

Under the leadership of Coach Lazar Lecic, the team climbed into the top flight of the famous Yugoslav League in 1986. Just surviving among and hosting some of the best European teams of that period – Cibona Zagreb, Jugoplastika Split, Zadar, Crvena Zvezda and Partizan Belgrade – was a success for the growing club. However, its first trophies did not come until the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia declared independence at the start of the 1990s.

MZT immediately became one of the most relevant factors on young country's basketball scene. The club first reached the league finals in 1993, but city-rival Rabotnicki stood in the way of glory. Thanks to reaching the finals, however, MZT could finally make its debut in European competitions in 1993. It swept Pardubice of the Czech Republic in the Korac Cup debut, before losing out against Ulm of Germany in home-and-away series.

MZT reached the domestic league finals three more times in the next five years, but Rabotnicki kept its dominance. MZT had more luck in the FYROM Cup, however, and made history in 1996 when it beat Rabotnicki in the final 69-64 to lift its first cup crown.

That success allowed a team coached by Aleksandar Knjazev to qualify for Saporta Cup, where his charges not only reached the group stage, but beat none other than the mighty Real Madrid, the eventual Saporta Cup champion that season. A memorable 69-68 decision on its home floor in a wild atmosphere at Jane Sandanski Arena is something long-time MZT fans talk about to this day.

MZT repeated as national cup champ in 1997 by beating Kvadarci in the finals, then again in 1999 and 2000, with the latter one coming in a dramatic 68-66 win over Rabotnicki. The club made two more Saporta Cup appearances – hosting the likes of Zalgiris Kaunas, KK Split, Cholet Basket and Asvel Villeurbanne – but never got past the group stage.

After the turn of the century, MZT lost two more league finals against Rabotnicki – in 2001 and 2004 – as the club went through some difficult times. Its existence had even come to question in 2009, which is when the club was taken over by the Municipality of Aerodrom days before the start of 2009-10 season. That's when things started going MZT's way.

During a rebuild, the club avoided relegation in 2010, and the next year already reached the domestic league playoff semifinals and cup final, where it got beat by Rabotnicki 74-69. Finally, in 2012, MZT made history by not only winning its first national title – the first of five in a row – but also by claiming the national cup again for the first time in 12 years.

Under the guidance of coach Aleksandar Todorov, a team led by Todor Gecevski, Ognjen Stojanovski, Gjorgji Cekovski, Cade Davis and Noah Dahlmam first won the cup by beating the defending FYROM champion at the time, KK Feni Industries, 84-66. It then ousted the same opponent 4-1 in the best-of-seven playoff finals to lift national league crown.

That 2011-12 season was the most historic and successful in club history until then, but MZT followed it up with two more national league-cup doubles, and made more history in seasons to come. Led by Damjan Stojanovski and Aleksandar Kostoski, MZT beat Kumanovo 79-71 for 2013 national cup title, then swept its way through the playoffs, ousting Feni Industries and Kozuv to lift another league title. Equally significant was MZT's Adriatic League debut in 2012-13 season. It was a successful debut, with the team claiming a seventh-place finish, which allowed MZT to qualify for the 2013-14 EuroCup campaign.

Making a EuroCup debut was not an easy task in itself, but MZT found itself in a group against Unics Kazan, Banvit Bandirma, VEF Riga, Maccabi Haifa and Kalev Cramo Tallin. MZT finished with a 1-9 regular season record, with its lone win coming at home against Kalev.

MZT's domestic dominance continued that season with another league-cup double. Then the club went ahead and won the league title in the last two seasons, as well. That success included club's fourth double last season when it beat Karpos Sokoli 68-62 in the cup final, and led by Damjan Stojanovski and Djordje Drenovac downed Kumanovo 3-1 in the best-of-five league playoffs final series.