The Club Scene: Khimki Moscow Region

Jan 06, 2017 by Igor Petrinovic, Print
The Club Scene: Khimki Moscow Region

A perennial Eurocup contender and a former two-time competition champion, Khimki Moscow Region is going strong once again. The Russian powerhouse, which marked two decades to its founding this month, has made a winning start in the 7DAYS EuroCup Top 16 and looks poised to make another long run on the international scene, something the club has been accustomed to doing in recent years.

Over the last decade, only a handful of teams have done what Khimki has managed to do – lift two continental crowns, and come within a victory of lifting two others, while setting a record for number of consecutive wins in the EuroCup. It has turned into a club that has a great ambition, a well-developed structure, which every years puts together teams loaded with experience, talent and top-class coaching that make Khimki a contender on an annual basis.

Khimki wasted no time in building a winning tradition, in a short span developing a habit of winning often and contending for the trophies. Khimki Basketball Club was founded in January of 1997 and later that year debuted in the country's first championship league, and by the 1999-2000 season consolidated its participation in the Russian Superleague – Russian elite division at the time. The following year, Khimki ranked seventh in the Superleague and made its Korac Cup debut. Khimki registered the same results the next season - seventh in the Russian League and reached the Korac Cup group stage - but took steps forward in the 2002-03 season. It was a campaign in which Khimki reached its first-ever Superleague semifinals, losing against perennial champion and its current greatest rival CSKA Moscow, and reached the Russian Cup semifinals in addition to advancing to the second stage in the FIBA Europe Champions Cup.

It was the first of three straight Russian Cup semifinal appearances for Khimki which bravely kept challenging for every competition over the next couple of seasons, finishing fifth and fourth respectively in the Russian League. The team did even better in the FIBA Europe League, making it to the final four in 2005, where it lost to eventual champion Dynamo St. Petersburg. Khimki climbed one step higher in 2006 as it reached its first Russian League final, and another Russian Cup final, losing once again against mighty CSKA. The club also reached the FIBA Eurocup title game, losing 63-88 to DKV Joventut Badalona.

In October of 2006, Khimki made its ULEB Cup debut – a competition in which it soon became one of the teams to beat. Khimki reached the eighthfinals in its first go, and Last 16 a year later. That 2007-08 turned into a dream campaign and a historic season, as the team downed eventual Euroleague champion CSKA in the 2008 Russian Cup final for the club's first crown of any kind, and also went on to make another Russian League finals appearance.

It was the first of six consecutive Russian League finals for Khimki, which made more big strides in 2008-09 by adding EuroLeague stars Jorge Garbajosa, Carlos Delfino and Kelly McCarty. Along with the up-and-coming Vitaly Fridzon, Maciej Lampe and Timofey Mozgov, they carried the team all the way to the EuroCup title game against Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius. Despite leading by 12 points in the second half, Khimki did not walk away with its first European trophy. A runner-up finish in the Russian League that season, however, got Khimki into the 2009-10 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague for the first time in club history.

In its EuroLeague debut, Khimki showed it was not an average newcomer. Khimki had little trouble in the regular season, but a tough Top 16 group with Olympiacos and Caja Laboral Vitoria Gasteiz prevented Khimki from reaching the playoffs. The club returned to the EuroLeague the following season via the qualifying rounds, but fell one victory short of advancing out of the regular season. However, a run of two title-free seasons was ended when Khimki added more silverware to the trophy room by winning the 2011 VTB League. Khimki upset CSKA 66-64 in the title game behind an outstanding game from center Kresimir Loncar. But there was a lot more to come.

The 2011-12 season was even better, when everything clicked for the team en route to winning its first continental title. Coach Rimas Kurtinaitis and stars Zoran Planinic, Thomas Kelati, Sergey Monya, Fridzon and Loncar led Khimki to EuroCup glory on their home floor. Khimki downed Valencia Basket 77-68 in the title game led by Planinic, who scored 19 points and earned Finals MVP honors. Khimki also returned to the Russian League finals for the fifth consecutive season, though once again CSKA stood in its way to the title.

The EuroCup title opened the door for a return to the EuroLeague, Khimki’s third campaign in four years. The team advanced to the EuroLeague Top 16, but two late losses - at home against Caja Laboral Vitoria and on the road against Olympiacos Piraeus – prevented the team from reaching the playoffs despite a 7-7 record. Khimki dominated again in the EuroCup a year later, winning 15 consecutive EuroCup games during the 2013-14 season, but was ousted in the eighthfinals by a virtue of a single point in a two-game series against the eventual champ Valencia Basket; it lost by 16 on the road and won by just 15 at home.

That record of 15 straight wins still stands in the EuroCup record books, but more importantly, Khimki quickly learned from its mistakes and peaked at the right time in the 2014-15 season. After an outstanding season, in which it won its EuroCup regular season and Last 32 groups, then swept two of its three elimination-round series, Khimki stormed through the EuroCup Finals against Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas with two wins by an aggregate score of 174-130. Tyrese Rice was chosen as the EuroCup MVP and also earned EuroCup Finals MVP honors. Petteri Koponen joined Rice on the All-EuroCup First Team and Rimas Kurtinaitis became the first head coach to win the competition three times. Khimki also reached the VTB League finals, but lost to rival CSKA Moscow.

Last season, Khimki returned to the EuroLeague for the fourth time in seven years, again as the reigning EuroCup champion, and the season had all the makings of a memorable one, but after a series of ups and downs, Khimki once again came a win away from reaching the playoffs.

However, failing to get to that next step in EuroLeague, or the ongoing wait to finally be crowned as the Russian champion, has done little to diminish all the success the club has achieved. In these early days of 2017, with January 5 just behind us – which is a day when Khimki celebrated its 20th birthday – everyone in and around the club can only hope the next 20 years will be as fruitful and successful as the first 20 have been.