The 2021/22 Euroleague season gets underway on Thursday as the 18 top teams in the continent will vie for basketball glory, which will culminate in Berlin where the Final Four is slated to take place in May 2022.
In order to get ready for the new campaign, let’s take a look at the clubs who will attempt to take home the top prize from the contenders to the pretenders and the teams who are riddled with question marks.
Maccabi Tel Aviv
The yellow-and-blue overhauled its roster during the offseason as management brought back a number of players who had helped the club a couple of years ago when it looked as if it was about to punch its ticket to the playoffs for the first time in roughly half a decade, before COVID-19 halted the season. For the first time in years, Maccabi also has a very favorable schedule to start the season and it’s expected that the team will be able to get off and running in a positive way.
As for the roster, naturalized Israeli and national team stalwart Jake Cohen returns to Israel after a year in Spain while Jalen Reynolds also comes back to Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad after a season with Bayern Munich. Maccabi also added Derrick Williams, James Nunnally, Kameron Taylor and Keenan Evans along with Sabras Iftach Ziv and Roman Sorkin to the mix, while star guard Scottie Wilbekin will once again be the center of attention as he begins his fourth season with the club. Angelo Caloiaro, Oz Blayzer and captain John Dibartolomeo will all be back while Ante Zizic will be out for close to two months due to an injury, but has been replaced by Mathias Lessort on a short-term contract. It’s crystal clear that Maccabi will attempt a serious run at European success with a solid mix of veterans who have played at the highest of levels from the NBA to the Euroleague and beyond.
The defending Euroleague champs will look repeat – or if it was up to head coach Ergin Ataman, three-peat – as the Istanbul-based club has been the best in the continent over the past few years. Should the coronavirus not have forced the cancellation of the balance of the 2019/20 season, EFES could indeed be looking at its third championship in a row thanks to all-star guard Shane Larkin. The son of baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin had bounced back and forth between the NBA and the Euroleague, but after arriving in Turkey a number of years ago he put his mark on the game like no other guard has over the past decade. Larkin can do it all on the court, from scoring at will and finding his open teammates to making everyone around him that much better. Vasilije Micic, who had been rumored to be taking his talents to the NBA, signed a long-term deal to stay with the club while Tibor Pleiss and Krunoslav Simon also return to take another run at the title.
After making it to the Final Four last season under veteran coach Ettore Messina, Milan reloaded and bought on even more star quality players to not only get back to the big tournament but to win it all. Nicolo Melli returns after a short stay in the NBA while Jerian Grant, who spent time in Europe last season, as well as Konstantinos Mitoglou join the squad from Panathinaikos. With returning veterans Kyle Hines, Malcolm Delaney, Sergio Rodriguez, Shavon Shields and Luigi Datome, there is no question that Milan will threaten to take home the gold.
The perennial Russian contender under coach Dimitris Itoudis always seem to outdo itself year-in and year-out. After advancing to the Final Four last season, CSKA will look to do the same this coming year after signing superstar Alexey Shved, who has never met a shot he didn’t like. Along with Shved, Will Clyburn will be back to cause havoc on the court while Toko Shengelia will begin his second year with the club.
After a disappointing end to last season, falling to EFES in the Euroleague final, Barcelona will look to get back to the top of the mountain under coach Saras Jasikevicius. Nick Calathes, Nikola Mirotic, and Cory Higgins are back, while the club added Sertac Sanli from EFES and Nicolas Laprovittola to the mix. Pau Gasol who joined the team near the end of last season is still undecided if he will return but a place will always be open for the former NBA All-Star.
You can never count out Pablo Laso’s team, especially after bringing on a slew of new players in order to try and return to the Final Four. Vincent Poirier, Nigel Williams-Goss, Thomas Heurtel and Guerschon Yabusele all come on board while Sergio Llull, Jaycee Carroll and up-and-coming guard Carlos Alocen will all be key players for Los Blancos this coming campaign.
MIDDLE OF THE PACK
The Istanbul squad retooled its roster while bringing coach Sasa Djordjevic on board to man the helm. Devin Booker, Pierria Henry, Achile Polonara and Marial Shayok join a squad that already features Nando De Colo, Dyshawn Pierre and Jan Vesely as there is plenty of talent to challenge for a playoff spot and perhaps surprise a few people along the way.
The Spanish squad once again will be a threat to every team in the Euroleague under veteran bench boss Dusko Ivanovic. Jayson Granger returns to the club while Matthew Costello, Simone Fontecchio, Rokas Giedraitis and Wade Baldwin all join up to try and help the team get back into the postseason.
Georgios Bartzokas continues on in charge of the Piraeus-based squad and made a number of interesting acquisitions to strengthen his team after the retirement of one of the greatest ever shooters the game has seen in Vassilis Spanoulis. Tyler Dorsey comes over from Maccabi Tel Aviv while Thomas Walkup and big man Moustapha Fall join the likes of veterans Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou and Kostas Sloukas.
The German team made wholesale changes for Andrea Trinchieri this coming season as the club brought in a pair of former Maccabi players in forward Deshaun Thomas and center Othello Hunter, as well as Darrun Hilliard and Corey Walden, who will join the ever-crafty Vladimir Lucic.
Zenit St. Petersburg
Xavi Pascual did wonders with the Russian team last season and the high bar that was set will once again be the club’s target this coming campaign as he overhauled the roster in a big way. NBA champion Jordan Loyd joins the squad to replace Kevin Pangos (who signed with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers) along with Shabazz Napier, Jordan Mickey and Mindaugas Kuzminskas, who will team up with returnees Billy Baron, Alex Poythress and Mateusz Ponitka.
The Euroleague newcomer will look to make a dent with veteran coach Velimir Perasovic running the show along with former NBA man Mario Hezonja leading the way. Together with OJ Mayo, Tonye Jekiri and Lorenzo Brown, Kazan will look to have a successful year and surprise the critics.
THE REST OF THE BUNCH
The French team made a huge splash by signing superstar guard Mike James, who had fallen out of favor at CSKA Moscow. The Russian team had had enough of James that it jettisoned him to the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets to finish up last season, and he will now play under coach Zvezdan Mitrovic. Other important players on the squad include Donatas Motiejunas, Brock Motum and Will Thomas.
The Athens-based club has been struggling the past few years in Euroleague play and after a short cameo by Israeli coach Oded Katash the team has brought aboard Greek bench boss Dimitris Pfiritis. The team brought in new faces such as Jehyve Floyd and Kendrick Perry to join the old in Ioannis Papapetrou and Nemanja Nedovic.
The Lithuanian team will welcome back head coach Martin Schiller for his second year in charge of the club, which surprised some last season but came up short near the end. Emmanuel Mudiay comes over from the NBA while big man Josh Nebo, who starred for Hapoel Eilat last season, will be a key contributor going forward.
With the retirement of legendary coach Aito Reneses, his longtime assistant Israel Gonzalez takes over as two Sabras join the team in Yovel Zoosman and Tamir Blatt, who will team up with veterans Luke Sikma and Maodo Lo.
Former NBA star Tony Parker’s club is in his brother TJ’s hands as he tries to continue the team’s upward trend after bringing on board a number of interesting signings in potential No. 1 NBA draft pick Victor Wenbanyama, Kostas Antetokounmpo (the brother of NBA champ and superstar Giannis), along with former Maccabi guard Chris Jones.
Red Star Belgrade
Dejan Radonjic remolded the squad by signing Nikola Kalinic, Aaron White and yet another one-time Maccabi Tel Aviv guard, Nate Wolters.