We're back! For the first time since March, Turkish Airlines EuroLeague basketball will be played in Lithuania at the famed Zalgirio Arena when the WE'RE BACK PRESEASON TOUR opens on Saturday afternoon! Host Zalgiris Kaunas will be joined by AX Armani Exchange Milan, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens and ALBA Berlin.
For the three visiting teams, it will be the first game abroad of the preseason as they take another step in preparing for the challenging 2020-21 campaign. In fact, the game will be ALBA's first of the preseason. Milan arrives most battle-tested; by the time it heads to Lithuania, Coach Ettore Messina's men will have played six games in the Italian SuperCup.
Zalgiris is a perfect team to host the event since three of its players will be hosting their former teams. Marius Grigonis and Steve Vasturia each spent time with ALBA and Lukas Lekavicius played two seasons with Panathinaikos. There are also a pair of former Zalgiris men back to face their old squad; Milan big man Zach LeDay played for the Lithuanian champs last season and Panathinaikos forward Aaron White was there the season before.
The first semifinal, at 15:00 CEST on Saturday, pits two coaching greats against each other with Aito Garcia Reneses leading ALBA against Ettore Messina's Milan. The second semifinal, scheduled to begin three hours later, will feature a pair of new head coaches to the EuroLeague with Martin Schiller leading Zalgiris against Georgios Vovoras and Panathinaikos.
All four teams will play again on Sunday with the championship game at 18:00 CEST preceded by the third-place contest three hours earlier.
The second leg of the WE'RE BACK PRESEASON TOUR will be in Valencia on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 15-16, with LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne, Olympiacos Piraeus, FC Bayern Munich and Valencia Basket taking part.
Remember, all eight games will be available to early subscribers at EuroLeague TV, so don't wait to buy your package and get in on the action with the WE'RE BACK PRESEASON TOUR!
Aito Garcia Reneses, head coach
"For us, it's good to be able to play this tournament in Kaunas because now we've begun training a bit more and had friendly games, keeping in mind we've had quite a few injuries early in this preseason and practically have not been able to play all together among ourselves. For that reason, to play against teams at the level of, for example, Milan in the first game, will help us begin to progress."
Luke Sikma, forward
"The tournament is a great opportunity to test our level against some of the best teams in Europe. Obviously, for everyone, it's been a different preseason in regards to COVID and everything, and not being able to play as many games as usual. So, to be able to get four good teams here and be able to compete, it'll be a great test for us and give us a good picture of where we are as a team."
Niels Giffey, forward
"We're definitely excited to be at the WE'RE BACK PRESEASON TOUR and feel that it's a great opportunity for our team to compete and get ready against back-to-back EuroLeague teams as we are starting our preseason game competition. It's just a good environment to improve and get our new team together, and definitely to be challenged by EuroLeague teams and go head-to-head as we prepare for the beginning of the season."
AX Armani Exchange Milan
Ettore Messina, head coach
"It's a very important time because this tournament allows us to recreate some kind of enthusiasm and self-confidence after a long and hard period, for the world, the sport and, in this case, for the EuroLeague. For that reason, we are very proud to be part of this competition, and hopefully it will be only the start of another exciting EuroLeague season."
Kyle Hines, center
"It's good to be back and to have the opportunity to go to Kaunas and compete so the fans can appreciate Euroleague Basketball's return. After a long time and the COVID-19 situation, this is a good way to return to what we do best, for all the teams involved, and hopefully we'll give the people a good show that they can appreciate."
Gigi Datome, forward
"We are very happy to be back on the court; it gives us some sense of return to a normal life. From a basketball perspective, it's positive and good to get a taste of what the EuroLeague season is going to be."
Panathinaikos OPAP Athens
Georgios Vovoras, head coach
"We are excited that we'll start to play friendly games, and especially this kind of tournament, under the umbrella of Euroleague Basketball. The safe and secure environment of the EuroLeague will help us to prepare for the season, and also to play strong friendly games at the EuroLeague level. With strong teams like Zalgiris, who we play in the first game, this tournament will help to show us where we need to improve and work more before the start of the season."
Aaron White, forward
"It's a good opportunity for our team to play against two EuroLeague teams. Should be great. It's the first year they are doing this preseason tournament. For me, I'm excited to go back, obviously. I haven't been back to Kaunas in a while, since I played there, so it will be nice to see some familiar faces. Hopefully we can play well and get better for the season."
Marcus Foster, guard
"For me, I'm excited. It's my first time going against EuroLeague competition, so I'm excited to see where I'm at. And team-wise, this'll be a good test and this'll help us going forward for the first part of the season. You never know if you're ready until you get out there. I think that's why, after we play these games, we can come back and look and, know for sure that after this, we'll be ready."
Martin Schiller, head coach
"The expectations and goals are to keep building and keep getting better, as profound as that sounds. Especially on the defensive end, we want to keep building, keep finding ourselves, finding our concepts and executing them. That's the main goal."
Paulius Jankunas, forward
"We're going to have a very strong tournament this weekend. It's not like we've been getting ready for it; more for the season in general. But I think we'll already be able to see what is working, and what isn't, what needs improvements. We are awaiting the fans eagerly. It's been a while since we last played at Zalgirio Arena with fans, so I really want to invite everyone to come and see."