Maccabi TA among Euroleague contenders

New format and revamped rosters the top storylines in elite continental basketball competition

OMRI CASSPI (center) scored 13 points for Maccabi Tel Aviv last night, but the yellow-and-blue lost 89-83 at Khimki Moscow in its Euroleague opener (photo credit: Courtesy)
OMRI CASSPI (center) scored 13 points for Maccabi Tel Aviv last night, but the yellow-and-blue lost 89-83 at Khimki Moscow in its Euroleague opener
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Euroleague season is finally here and there has been plenty of changes not only to the rosters, with player movement galore, but also with the competition itself. The Euroleague has added two more teams, increasing the amount from 16 to 18 as each club will now play 34 games instead of 30. 
The top eight teams will advance to the quarterfinals, which is a best-of-five series, while the semifinals and finals will still be played in a Final Four single-elimination format, which will take place this season in Cologne, Germany.
Maccabi Tel Aviv opened up the 2019/20 Campaign on Thursday night with a new-look roster which includes a number of big additions, however, none bigger than Omri Casspi, who returns to Israel after a decade-long NBA career.  Although Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos has said that Casspi is just one member of the team, there is no question that the Holon native will have a huge impact on the court for the yellow-and-blue.
In addition to Casspi, grizzled veteran center Othello Hunter joins the team after winning the Euroleague title with CSKA last season and he will be reunited with his former boss from Olympiacos, where he played for Sfairopoulos a few years ago. 
Power forward Quincy Acy, who played for a number of years in the NBA, guard Nate Wolters, Tyler Dorsey and Elijah Bryant all join the Israeli league champion in its quest to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Up-and-coming Israeli stars Deni Avdija and Yovel Zoosman return to Maccabi and will be relied upon by the club, while Scottie Wilbekin, Tarik Black, Jake Cohen and John DiBartolomeo will all be back for another run at glory.
Defending champ CSKA also made numerous changes in the offseason, with star guard Mike James coming over as well as Kostas Koufos from the Sacramento Kings and Ron Baker from the New York Knicks. Euroleague vets Johannes Voightmann and Darrun Hilliard will also join forces with Kyle Hines and Will Clyburn.
Barcelona really loaded up with star power during the offseason and should be a legitimate threat to dethrone CSKA. Nikola Mirotic left the NBA to come to Spain and will team up with Brandon Davies, Cory Higgins, Malcolm Delaney and Alex Abrines. Already on the roster were Canadian guard Kevin Pangos, Thomas Heurtel and Victor Claver as the Blaugrana will try to bring the trophy back home for the first time in 10 years.
Real Madrid will be in contention as always under coach Pablo Laso, and the Spanish giant kept its roster pretty much intact from last year, which is a rarity in continental basketball. Facundo Campazzo, Sergio Llull, Rudy Fernandez and Anthony Randolph will all be in the familiar uniform, while youngsters Gabriel Deck and Usman Garuba will be worked into the lineup.
David Blatt’s Olympiacos made numerous changes during the summer, but star guard Vassilis Spanoulis will be back and raring to go after returning from injury. Basketball Champions League MVP Kevin Punter moves to Athens along with Mindaugus Kuzminskas and will meet up with Greek league veterans Georgios Printezis and Kostas Papnikolaou.
On the other side of Athens, Panathinaikos brought in scoring machine Jimmer Fredette, Wesley Johnson, Rion Brown, Tyrese Rice and Jacob Willey, while Euro stalwart Nick Calathes will run the show from the point.
Milano made wholesale changes to its team as coach Ettorre Messina returns from the NBA. Sergio Rodriguez comes in from CSKA, Michael Roll heads to Italy from Maccabi and Shelvin Mack joins the team from the NBA. Vladimir Micov, Arturas Gudaitis, Nemanja Nedovic and Jeff Brooks give the Italians a good shot at a playoff position.
Fenerbahce will be a threat under wily old veteran coach Zeljiko Obradovic as always. The core of sharp shooter Kostas Sloukas, Nikola Kalinic, Jan Vesely, Bobby Dixon and Luigi Datome will be joined by stars Nando De Colo, Derrrick Williams and Leo Westermann. The Turkish powerhouse will once again look to head to the Final Four and with this roster the sky’s the limit.
Khimki Moscow opened up the purse strings and gave superstar Alexey Shved the tools to take this team to the top. NBA center Timofey Mozgov, Jonas Jerebko, Stefan Jovic, Devin Booker, Janis Timna, Sergey Monia are just some of the players that coach Rimas Kurtinaitis has to work with this coming season.
Finalist Anadolou EFES will have star guard Shane Larkin back running the show as the son of former Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin will try to take his squad all the way to Germany. Bryant Dunston, Vasilije Micic, Rodrigue Beaubois, James Anderson and Adrien Moerman will also return as coach Ergin Ataman has a team that could go all the way.
In the mix
Baskonia brings back much of its squad form last season, which includes the likes of shooting guard Matt Janning, Jayson Granger, Luca Vildoza and star forward Toko Shengelia, while veteran NBA swingman Nik Stauskas joins the fray.
Zalgiris will have one of the best coaches in the game on its bench in Saras Jasikevicius and he will again have a huge challenge on his hands. Thomas Walkup is back while Jock Landale and Zach LeDay come aboard for the upcoming campaign.
Bayern Munich made a big splash over the summer by signing NBA big man Greg Monroe as it will look to continue to be the top German team in the Euroleague.
Valencia, Spain’s fourth Euroleague, team will be competitive with the likes of Brock Motum, Sam Van Rossom and Euroleague veteran Fernando San Emeterio while Jordan Loyd, who won an NBA Championship ring with the Toronto Raptors, will be counted on in the backcourt.
Red Star Belgrade has a veteran-laden team as it rejoins the Euroleague after playing the past season in the Eurocup. Derrick Brown, Stratos Perperolgou, Charles Jenkins and James Gist will feature for the Serbian side.
Recently retired NBA superstar Tony Parker’s ASVEL Villeurbanne returns to the Euroleague after a decade. All eyes will be on NBA Draft lottery prospect Theo Maledon as the point guard will be given every opportunity to become the heir apparent to Parker himself.
Zenit St. Petersburg makes its debut in the Euroleague and has assembled an interesting group of players. Gustavo Ayon is the biggest name as the Mexican center moves from Real Madrid to Russia, while Tim Abromaitis, who starred with Tenerife last season, also joins the team.
Alba Berlin returns to the Euroleague after a four-year absence and will rely on Luke Sikma to bear the burden of the offense, while NBA scouts will keep an eye on young German prospect Jonas Mattisseck.