Euroleague campaign prepared to tip off

After coronavirus-shortened season, Maccabi Tel Aviv still poised to contend for continental championship.

Maccabi Tel Aviv Euroleague basketball story by Joshua Halickman on page 8 – Picture of Maccabi Tel Aviv's Othello Hunter  (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
Maccabi Tel Aviv Euroleague basketball story by Joshua Halickman on page 8 – Picture of Maccabi Tel Aviv's Othello Hunter
The 2020/21 Euroleague basketball season is upon us as 18 teams will vie for continental glory beginning on Thursday evening.
The league returns after being on hiatus since the outbreak of the coronavirus in March as it will attempt to complete the 34-game regular season and playoffs across 10 different countries over the next eight months with the Final Four slated to be played in Cologne, Germany.
Just before the tip-off between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Alba Berlin, let’s take a look at the teams that make up this year’s competition.
Maccabi Tel Aviv was in the midst of one of its best continental season’s in quite some time and had punched its ticket to the playoffs before the coronavirus halted the league and the yellow-and-blue’s campaign in its tracks. Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad will now have a couple of new faces in the lineup. After Deni Avdija headed to the United States in preparation for the NBA Draft, center Ante Zizic comes the other way from the Cleveland Cavaliers to join Maccabi and team up in the paint with veteran big man Othello Hunter. In addition to Zizic, former Maccabi forward Dragan Bender, who had been playing in the NBA, also returned to Europe on a short-term three-month deal with the yellow-and-blue, bolstering the front line even more. All-Star guard Scottie Wilbekin will be back as will Tyler Dorsey, Elijah Bryant, Yovel Zoosman, Angelo Caloiaro, Sandy Cohen, John Dibartolomeo and Omri Casspi. New recruits include guard Chris Jones and Oz Blayzer, who comes over from Maccabi Rishon Lezion. There may still be some more changes as it’s still possible that Quincy Acy and Amar’e Stoudemire will return to Israel.
Anadolu EFES will be back and better than ever under coach Ergin Ataman. Shane Larkin, who has arguably been the best player in Europe over the past couple of seasons is back for the Turkey-based club while Bryant Dunston, Krunoslav Simon Vasilije Micic and Rodrigue Beaubois return to try and take another run at glory.
Barcelona may have made the biggest splash in the offseason by adding not only Nick Calathes in the back-court, but also bringing in a new coach in Saras Jasikevicius. Nikola Mirotic, Victor Claver Brandon Davies, Cory Higgins and Adam Hanga are all back as Barca will look to make a lot of noise come May.
CSKA Moscow will be in the mix once again as coach Dimitris Itoudis tries to defend the title he won back in 2019. Mike James will once again power the offense alongside Will Clyburn and newcomers Tornike Shegelia and Nikola Milutinov.
Olimpia Milano and coach Ettore Messina also made some wholesale changes to the squad with the addition of big man Kyle Hines, Luigi Datome, Malcolm Delaney, Kevin Punter and Zach Leday. They’ll join Sergio Rodriguez, Michael Roll and Jeff Brooks as the Italian side will look to improve on a disappointing campaign last year.
Real Madrid is once again a threat to take the title with oodles of talent at coach Pablo Laso’s fingertips. Facundo Campazzo returns for the time being, and while he may be off to the NBA within a few months, the Argentinian will control the tempo for as long as he remains with the club. Anthony Randolph, Sergio Llull, Jaycee Carroll, Fabien Caseur, Felipe Reyes and Rudy Fernandez all return while Nicolas Laprovittola may earn a bigger role should Campazzo indeed depart for North America.
Teams to watch
Alba Berlin, under coach Aito Garcia Reneses, will once again have captain Niels Giffey back along with Peyton Siva, Luke Sikma and up-and-coming talent Jonas Mattisseck as Jayson Granger and Maodo Lo join the team.
Bayern Munich and coach Andrea Trinchieri looked to bring in some new blood as Malcolm Thomas, Nick Weiler-Babb, Jalen Reynolds and Wade Baldwin join TJ Bray Vladimir Lucic and Nihad Dedovic.
Saski Baskonia, which won the ACB League title this past June under Dusko Ivanovic, will try to recreate its domestic success with Luka Vildoza, Pierria Henry and Zoran Dragic along with newcomers Rokas Giedraitis and Tony Jekiri.
Fenerbahce has a new coach in Igor Kokoskov, who will count on veterans Nando de Colo and Jan Vesely to handle the on court play after losing numerous players during the offseason.
Khimki Moscow will once again rely on All-Star Alexey Shved to supply the scoring while Rimas Kurtinaitis’s squad will also have shooters Janis Timma and Sergey Monia at his disposal.
Olympiacos coach Georgios Bartzokas brought in Kostas Sloukas from Fenerbahce to bolster the team, which features Kostas Papanikolaou, Georgios Printezis and veteran Vassilis Spanoulis. A player to watch will be Aleksej Pokusevski, who may be taken in the first round of the NBA Draft in November.
Panathinaikos will have Gerogios Vovoras at the helm of the Athens-based squad, which saw quite a few new faces sign with the club. Marcus Foster, who starred last year with Hapoel Holon, Pierre Jackson, Nemanja Nedovic, Zach Auguste and Howard Sant-Roos all join the team in what was a total overhaul to the roster.
Valencia and coach Jaume Ponsarnau added a number of players to upgrade the squad as Nikola Kalinic, Derrick Williams and Martin Hermannsson join the likes of Bojan Dubljevic and Mike Tobey as the Spanish side looks to improve on its surprise campaign last season.
ASVEL will have TJ Parker, the brother of team owner and former NBA star Tony Parker in charge of the French squad, which will feature former Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Norris Cole and budding youngster Matthew Strazel.
Red Star Belgrade has a new coach in Sasa Obradovic and he will look to surprise some with his squad as NBA Champion Jordan Loyd joins the club along with Langston Hall and Corey Walden.
Zalgiris Kaunas has a new man in charge in Martin Schiller, who will have Thomas Walkup, Nigel Hayes and Steve Vasturia along with locals Lukas Lekavicius and Paulius Jankunas.
Zenit Saint Petersburg coach Xavi Pascual will have guard Kevin Pangos running the show along with KC Rivers, Billy Baron and Arturas Gudaitis to rely on as the Russian squad will look to improve on last year’s poor showing.