Mac TA to face Panathinaikos in Euroleague first round

Tel Aviv was handed relatively easy opponents in Group B of the Euroleague.

Macabbi TA 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Macabbi TA 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv and Haopel Jerusalem suffered mixed fortunes in Thursday's draw for the first rounds of the Euroleague and ULEB Cup. Tel Aviv was handed relatively easy opponents in Group B of the Euroleague, while Jerusalem received a testing schedule in Group C of the ULEB Cup. Maccabi's toughest challenge for top spot in the group is set to come from Greek giants Panathinaikos. The Euroleague Final Four will be held in Athens this season and the Greeks have invested big money to make sure they will be one of the four teams to appear in the season finale. Slovenian playmaker Sani Becirovic, NBA veteran sharpshooter Tony Delk, small forward Ramunas Siskauskas, power forward Dimos Dikoudis and Lithuanian center Robertas Javtokas have all been added to a squad that was already one of Europe's best. Spanish champions Unicaja Malaga will also have the ability to cause Maccabi problems and will likely be in the running for top spot in the group. The team added talented duo Erazem Lorbek and Jiri Welsch, but will miss Jorge Garbajosa who left to join the NBA's Toronto Raptors. Cibona Zagreb isn't likely to challenge for the top spots in Group B and should not cause any trouble for the stronger sides. The game in Croatia will be an emotional return for Maccabi's Croatioan coach Neven Spahija who coached Cibona in the past. Slovenian champion Olimpija Ljubljana should be easy picking for the top teams, but will have star Marko Milic, who has returned to the team where he began his career. Partizan Belgrade only won two games in the Euroleague last season, and it will be no surprise if they win the same number this year. Lottomatica Roma is led by ageing European legend Dejan Bodiroga, and with new coach Jasmin Repesa will surely cause a fair amount of upsets during the season. Spanish side Joventut Badalona was the last team to be drawn into Maccabi's group, but will almost defiantly not be finishing in last place when the season ends. Spanish sensation Rudy Fernandez and veteran coach Aito Reneses give the team a good chance to progress to the next stage of the competition. "On paper it seems like the draw isn't difficult, but it's hard to say right now because we haven't seen the team yet," Maccabi's Croatian center Nikola Vujcic said after hearing who he will be up against in the Euroleague this season. "I'm happy that I'll have a chance to go home and visit family." Maccabi will open its campaign on October 26 against Malaga in Tel Aviv. The other Euroleague groups were drawn as follows: Group A: Tau Ceramica, Olympiacos, Efes Pilsen, Climamio Bologna, Prokom Trefl, Dynamo Moscow, Le Mans Sarthe, RheinEnergie Koln Group C: CSKA Moscow, Winterthur FCB, Benetton Treviso, Fenerbahce Ulker, Zalgiris, Pau-Orthez, Aris TT Bank, Eldo B. Napoli. Jerusalem faces two Euroleague regulars in the ULEB Cup, but will still be confident of progressing in the competition. Montepaschi Sienna and Alba Berlin had played in the Europe's premier competition in recent years but after poor league showings last year will be taking part in the ULEB Cup this season. Strong Russian side Khimki Moscow, Academic Sofia and Oostende of Belgium complete the group from which the top four will progress to the next round. Hapoel begins the competition with a game against Khimki in Moscow at the end of October. "I think the ULEB Cup in general is very competitive this year. There are a lot of quality teams and whoever knows the teams and looks at the sides knows that it's a very competitive group and for us it's challenging," Jerusalem coach Dan Shamir said after the draw. "You have to play the good teams at some point and we'll get them right from the very beginning."