Continental contenders align expectations

Heading into EuroLeague, Maccabi Tel Aviv among a number of revamped squads with title hopes

 AFTER DEPARTING for Hapoel Holon in 2017, Guy Pnini is back with Maccabi Tel Aviv, and even at 39 has plenty to offer in terms of leadership and production.  (photo credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)
AFTER DEPARTING for Hapoel Holon in 2017, Guy Pnini is back with Maccabi Tel Aviv, and even at 39 has plenty to offer in terms of leadership and production.
(photo credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)

As the 2022/23 EuroLeague season gets under way, it’s time to take a look who some of the contenders and pretenders will be as each team made numerous changes to their rosters over the course of the summer.

This year, the Russian teams will also be excluded from participating in the competition just as they were back in March due to the invasion of Ukraine, and this has allowed a number of new clubs to take their spots.
Nine different countries will take part in the 18-team league that will see each club play 34 games between October and April, with the top eight squads moving on to the best-of-five quarterfinals. The competition will culminate with a Final Four format for the semifinals and finals in which each contest will be a one-game knockout.
So without further ado, let’s delve into what can be expected from Maccabi Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Olympiacos, Fenerbahce and the rest of the league.

Maccabi Tel Aviv

The yellow-and-blue totally remade the roster as it jettisoned all eight foreign players as new head coach Oded Katash decided to go with players of his liking for the upcoming season. Last year saw Maccabi advance to the EuroLeague quarterfinals, where it was unceremoniously swept by eventual finalist Real Madrid.

However, some will say the only reason the club even made it to the playoffs was because the Russian teams were excluded from the competition and Tel Aviv’s record against those teams were wiped out of the final standings. Israel’s lone representative in the EuroLeague did not finish the domestic season well and fell to Bnei Herzliya in the semifinals. All in all, Maccabi wanted to start from scratch and that is precisely what it did.

 UP AGAINST Maccabi Tel Aviv. (credit: DANNY MARON) UP AGAINST Maccabi Tel Aviv. (credit: DANNY MARON)
In came point guard and floor general Lorenzo Brown, who just led Spain to the European championship, guard Wade Baldwin, swingmen Austin Hollins and Darrun Hilliard, forwards Jarrell Martin and Bonzie Colson to go along with big men Alex Poythress and Josh Nebo. Scottie Wilbekin, who had been the star of the show, departed after four years for Fenerbahce while the rest of the imports found other stops in Europe for the upcoming campaign.
On the Israeli side of things, Maccabi brought back Guy Pnini, who had captained the club to the 2014 Eurobasket title, and signed forward Rafi Menco to go along with holdovers, current captain John Dibartolomeo, Jake Cohen, Roman Sorkin and Iftach Ziv.
If things roll right for Katash and his new Maccabi team, they could very well find themselves in position to take one of the playoff spots again, but if the wheels fall off early, who knows what might be in store for the yellow-and-blue?

The Contenders

Anadolu EFES

Ergin Ataman’s team will be looking for a EuroLeague three-peat after winning the continental championship for two straight years. Superstar guards Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic return to the backcourt for the Turkish squad, which also added forwards Will Clyburn, Achille Polonara as well as ex-Maccabi center Ante Zizic to pair up with Tibor Pleiss as EFES has reloaded for another run at the title.

Milano

One of Europe’s greatest coaches, Ettore Messina, is back for another season in charge of the Italian team that is loaded once again to take another run at European glory. Coming in are guards Billy Baron and Kevin Pangos as well as forwards Johannes Voightmann Deshaun Thomas and center Brandon Davies as the club will have plenty of firepower and defensive prowess heading into the new season. Big man Kyle Hines will be back as well as Nicolo Melli, Luigi Datome, Shavon Shields and Devon Hall as Messina has arguably one of the best and deepest rosters in Europe.

Barcelona

Saras Jasikevicius will try to reach the top of content once again and to do that he went back to the drawing board and brought in some new players to make an impact on both sides of the floor. Czech superstar guard Tomas Satoransky returns to Europe from the NBA to the club that he played with a number of years ago, the always reliable Serbian forward Nikola Kalinic also comes on board as well as Oscar da Silva, who makes the move from Berlin along with veteran big man Jan Vesely and Mike Tobey.

Saras will be under pressure to produce with a roster that also includes star forward Nikola Mirotic, Alex Abrines and Cory Higgins. Should he falter, bigger changes may come to Barca.

Real Madrid

Los Blancos will have a new face on the bench this season as Chus Mateo takes over for Pablo Laso, who guided the squad to many successes and championships over the past decade. Most of last year’s team will be back for this coming campaign, including arguably the most dangerous weapon in Europe in big man Walter Tavares, along with center Vincent Poirier as well as Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Llull, Adam Hanga, Gabriel Deck and Guerschon Yabusele, just to name a few.

The newcomers will also be formidable foes for Real’s opponents as Mario Hezonja, Sergio Rodriguez and Dzanan Musa all arrive in Spain for a shot at European glory.

Olympiacos

Geogios Bartzokas always has competitive teams and that is the case once again this year for the Piraeus-based team. Thomas Walkup, Shaquille McKissic, Kostas Sloukas, Sasha Vezenkov as well as Kostas Papanikolaou all return for the Greeks, while big man Moustapha Fall will also have Tarik Black and Joel Bolomboy in the front court as the Greek powerhouse will look to win the championship once again.

Panathinaikos

Head coach Dejan Radonjic certainly knows how to work with limited budgets, and while Pana seems to have been given the green light to spend a bit more than in past seasons, the Montenegrin bench boss seems to have done a nice job fielding a competitive squad.

Paris Lee and Andrew Andrews will shore up the backcourt along with the Greek Kalaitzakis twins, Panagiotis and Georgios, as former Maccabi players Nate Wolters and Derrick Williams will also be key assets. However, possibly the biggest moves were made in bringing in Polish star Mateusz Ponitka and Lithuanian big man Arturas Gudaitis as PAO will be a force to be reckoned with in this coming campaign.

Fenerbahce

Dimitris Itoudis is now in charge of the Turkish team after a number of seasons in Russia with CSKA Moscow, and he has made some nice additions in order to try and take Fener back to its natural place near the top of the standings. Wilbekin arrives from Maccabi, while Carsen Edwards and Nick Calathes will provide a top flighty backcourt. Johnathan Motley will be counted on in the front court while the club’s most exciting signing is Nemanja Bjelica after he won an NBA Championship with the Golden State Warriors.

Bayern Munich

Andrea Trinchieri is back to try and take the German team to the top of the mountain after a second straight season in the EuroLeague postseason with almost the same roster as the previous campaign. Othello Hunter, Nick Weiler-Babb, Corey Walden and Vladimir Lucic all return, while Isaac Bonga and Cassius Winston arrive from the NBA.

Monaco

The principality’s team will look to build off last season’s success, when Sasa Obradovic guided his squad to the playoffs. Star guard Mike James will once again be asked to lead, Jordan Loyd and lockdown defender John Brown have joined the team, while one-time Nahariya forward Jaron Blossomgame will also be looked at to provide scoring for the French League club.

Bologna

Sergio Scariolo, who is fresh off of winning the 2022 Eurobasket with Spain, will look to find the same success in the EuroLeague as Bologna makes its first foray back in the EuroLeague in two decades. Former NBA players Milos Teodosic and Marco Belinelli will be back for Italy’s oldest basketball team while Kyle Weems and Daniel Hackett will also be important pieces to the puzzle. Add into the mix Iffe Lundberg and Isaia Cordinier, and Bologna has a decent squad but one that will have trouble reaching the postseason.

SERGIO LLULL (left) found his rhythm over the last two games of Real Madrid’s 3-0 sweep of John DiBartolomeo and Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague quarterfinals.  (credit: Dov Halickman)SERGIO LLULL (left) found his rhythm over the last two games of Real Madrid’s 3-0 sweep of John DiBartolomeo and Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague quarterfinals. (credit: Dov Halickman)

The Israelis

Alba Berlin

Head coach Israel Gonzalez will begin his second year with the team, as will the Israeli duo of Tamir Blatt and Yovel Zoosman. Both players, especially Blatt, markedly improved over the course of last season and they will be expected to take the next step in their EuroLeague careers. Two other players to keep an eye on are German national team guard Maodo Lo and American-Croatian swingman Jaleen Smith as Alba will look to improve on its showing from last season.

Partizan Belgrade

Zeljko Obradovic is back in his natural habitat, the EuroLeague. The legendary coach will bring in a fairly young and inexperienced squad from the EuroCup, one that includes Israeli guard and Boston Celtics draft stash point guard Yam Madar, who will be making his first foray into the continent’s top competition. Ioannis Papapetrou and Dante Exum will be important additions to the team as will holdovers Kevin Punter, Zach Leday and Matthias Lessort.

Rest of the pack

Baskonia

Joan Penarroya takes over the reins at the Basque club, which looks to be going through a rebuilding year in Spain. Vanja Marinkovic will be back and will look to be one of the club’s influential players after having a good Eurobasket tournament with Serbia, while both Rokas Giedraitis and Arturs Kurucs will try to help the team on both sides of the ball.

Red Star Belgrade

The Serbian club, under the direction of Vladimir Jovanovic, added some quality firepower to its squad as sharpshooter Nemanja Nedovic comes on board, while John Holland, Ben Bentil and big man Hassan Martin will try to upgrade the team.

Valencia

Alex Mumbru will be in charge of the Spanish squad that has brought in some interesting pieces, including guard Chris Jones who will be looked at as running the offense. Jonah Radenbaugh, James Wess and Kyle Alexander will all be new faces while veteran Bojan Dubljevic will be back, as well as Victor Claver and Klemen Prepelic.

Villeurbanne

TJ Parker’s team will look to take the next step in the EuroLeague, and while it didn’t make many additions it did add Nando De Colo, who is one of Europe’s most dangerous guards. Joffrey Lauvergne returns as does David Lighty, Charles Kahudi and Antoine Diot. Another interesting signing is former Hapoel Jerusalem guard Retin Obasohan, who featured for Belgium in the Eurobasket.

Zalgiris

Kazys Maksvytis’s team will have a tough year ahead as former Maccabi guard Keenan Evans joins the club, which also has Lukas Leavicius, Tyler Cavanaugh and Edgaras Ulanovas returning to the squad.’s team will have a tough year ahead as former Maccabi guard Keenan Evans joins the club, which also has Lukas Leavicius, Tyler Cavanaugh and Edgaras Ulanovas returning to the squad.