A new Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season gets underway on Thursday and Friday this week with plenty of exciting storylines guaranteed to provide an explosive start. Here’s your overview of the best of the action.
James aims to down former team
One of the most exciting signings of the summer took place in the principality of AS Monaco, where the explosive Mike James has been added to the roster as last season’s 7DAYS EuroCup champ prepares to step up to the highest level in European basketball for the first time. Monaco’s home meeting with Panathinaikos OPAP Athens is the very first tip-off of the new season at 1900 CET on Thursday night.
Panathinaikos, of course, is one the teams where James made a big mark, averaging 14.1 points per game over 37 EuroLeague appearances in the Greek capital between 2016 and 2018. And with fellow new arrivals such as Donatas Motiejunas – back in the competition after nine years in the United States and China – and Danilo Anjusic, former Top Scorer Trophy winner James will aim to make this a memorable occasion for the EuroLeague newcomers. The Greens head into the new campaign under the leadership of another new head coach with Dimitrios Priftis returning to the club where he previously served as an assistant before spending the last four seasons with UNICS Kazan.
Milan and CSKA in instant rematch
One of the highlights on opening night is an instant rematch from the Final Four with AX Armani Exchange Milan hosting CSKA Moscow in a repeat of the Third Place Game from Cologne, won by the club from the fashion capital. This heavyweight matchup will feature a pair of high-profile debutants as scoring star Alexey Shved plays his first game for CSKA in nine years following his summer move from Khimki Moscow Region, while Nicolo Melli is back in a Milan uniform for the first time since 2015.
Those two stars are not the only new arrivals at their respective teams. Coach Ettore Messina has seriously refreshed his Milan roster with the likes of Jerian Grant, Devon Hall, Troy Daniels and Dinos Mitoglou hoping to take the team to the next level. CSKA boss Dimitris Itoudis, meanwhile, has also recruited multi-talented Marius Grigonis from Zalgiris Kaunas to join his existing galaxy of stars, and this Round 1 meeting is sure to provide some big early season fireworks.
Champion Efes faces playoffs repeat at Real
Another high-profile opening round matchup – and another quick repeat from the end of last season – sees new champion Anadolu Efes Istanbul travel to take on perennial challenger Real Madrid at WiZink Center on Thursday. The two teams met in a memorable playoffs series in April, eventually won by Efes in the maximum five games after Real showed its character to twice launch improbable comebacks in its two home games.
Coach Ergin Ataman’s team will defend its crown with almost exactly the same roster as last season’s triumphant march to the title and the prospect of again lining up with EuroLeague MVP Vasilije Micic and the explosive Shane Larkin in the backcourt will give Efes fans reason to believe another trophy is within reach. In some ways this is the start of a new era at Real, with former Barcelona duo Thomas Heurtel and Adam Hanga among a list of new arrivals which also includes Nigel Williams-Goss and Guerschon Yabusele. But there is also plenty of returning talent available to Pablo Laso, and the likes of Sergio Llull, Walter Tavares and Vincent Poirier will look to swiftly combine with the summer signings and claim an early statement win.
Russian derby tips off Friday
Friday’s action starts with a Russian derby – albeit with the two teams separated by more than 1,000 kilometers – as UNICS Kazan welcomes Zenit St Petersburg. UNICS is back in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague after four years away. It qualified through last season’s runner-up finish in the 7DAYS EuroCup. A familiar face is on the bench, with Coach Velimir Perasovic arriving after already spending 11 seasons in the competition with four different clubs. Some EuroLeague experience has also been snapped up with Mario Hezonja, Lorenzo Brown and Tonye Jekiri.
Zenit is looking to build on last season’s success in reaching the playoffs for the first time and Coach Xavi Pascual will hope that new signing Jordan Loyd can continue the scoring form that saw him average 17.3 points per game with Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade last season. Another promising signing is athletic big man Jordan Mickey, while sharpshooter Conner Frankamp will look to quickly become a force in his first season in the competition.
Gonzalez steps up for coaching debut
There will be a head coaching debut for ALBA Berlin when Israel Gonzalez takes charge of his team for a daunting trip to last season’s runner-up, FC Barcelona. Gonzalez has spent plenty of time with the German club as assistant coach to Aito Garcia Reneses and now has the chance to step up to the senior role with his former boss taking a sabbatical from coaching. Gonzalez will be on familiar territory at the Palau Blaugrana after spending the majority of his coaching career with a number of clubs in his native Spain and ALBA has the added incentive of attempting to make history after never previously winning in Barcelona.
The home team has a number of new faces this season, including champion center Sertac Sanli, former Real Madrid point guard Nicolas Laprovittola and multipurpose ex-Zalgiris Kaunas player Nigel Hayes. But the bulk of last season’s squad returns for Sarunas Jasikevicius, who will look to superstars Nick Calathes, Cory Higgins and Nikola Mirotic to power the Blaugrana to a fast start against Gonzalez and co.