The launch pad is ready and take-off is imminent for what promises to be a scintillating 2017-18 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season, starting Thursday and Friday all across the continent. Get the lowdown on some of the big angles and straight facts coming into Round 1!
Prigioni’s historic transition to sidelines
There will be plenty of attention for Pablo Prigioni this week as the legendary Argentine makes his debut on the Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz bench to become the first EuroLeague coach from South America this century. But being placed under the spotlight will not, surely, present any kind of problem for Prigioni, who became somewhat accustomed to performing under pressure during a glorious playing career which spanned more than two decades including 186 EuroLeague appearances, mostly with the team he is now coaching. Making the adjustment from playing point guard to pacing the sidelines is nothing new, of course, and Prigioni will aim to follow the example of fellow EuroLeague coaches such as Zeljko Obradovic, Pablo Laso and Sarunas Jasikevicius in transitioning to his new role. Prigioni will not have to go up against another legendary playmaker, Vassilis Spanoulis, in his coaching debut, however, as the three-time champ – another coach in the making, no doubt – will miss the opener due to an injury. It's also worth noting that another new recruit to Olympiacos will be attempting to ruin Prigioni's big moment. After spending the last three seasons with Baskonia, Kim Tillie will enjoy a rapid reunion with his former teammates as his new club Olympiacos welcomes Prigioni and his men.
Miller time in Bamberg
Tillie is not the only player preparing to face his former club after switching teams in the summer, with the same also applying to Quincy Miller of Brose Bamberg.
Miller has arrived in Germany after spending one season with Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, which is now traveling to Bamberg for Thursday's opener. Miller's solitary season in Israel, dominated by his recovery from a serious injury, was a disappointment he'll look to quickly put behind him. Having enjoyed an outstanding debut EuroLeague campaign with Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade in 2014-15, hopes were high that Miller would anchor a strong challenge for Maccabi. But those expectations were dashed when he suffered a knee injury the previous summer, and he was only able to play four games in the EuroLeague for Maccabi.
Clearly, Miller will be hoping for better luck as he embarks upon the next stage of his career in Bamberg. And after witnessing his spectacular combination of high-flying dunks, ferocious blocks and rapid-fire scoring during his brief spell in Belgrade, neutral fans should also be hoping this exciting young player enjoys an upturn in fortunes.
Alimpijevic: experience beyond his years
It might appear at first glance that fewer head coaches have ever arrived to the EuroLeague with less experience than Dusan Alimpijevic, who this week will become the youngest head coach in the competition for 14 years as he leads Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade into its season opener at Zalgiris Kaunas. But that would be doing a serious injustice to the work put in by Alimpijevic to get this far. The 31-year-old started his coaching career nine years ago, spending three seasons as an assistant with Novi Sad before moving to Vojvodina, where he became the head coach in 2013. Then followed a spell with Spartak Subotica before joining FMP Belgrade, which he led into last season's Serbian League finals. So Alimpijevic might be young, but he's certainly no novice and undoubtedly has put in the groundwork to earn an opportunity at this level. On a club renowned for developing talented young players, he will now be looking to prove the same thing can happen in the coaching department. In case you were wondering, the last EuroLeague head coach younger than Alimpijevic was Saso Filipovski, who was only 29 when he led Union Olimpija Ljubljana into action in the 2003-04 season.
Change at Barcelona as Pascual returns
One of the most famous rivalries in European basketball has an added personal element this week as Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens coach Xavi Pascual faces his old team, FC Barcelona Lassa, where he served as boss for nearly nine seasons between 2008 and 2016. Friday's game at Palau Blaugrana will be Pascual's second return to his former home, after having suffered a 72-57 loss there in Round 10 last season. Despite that result, Barcelona suffered a tough 2016-17 campaign with a series of serious injuries plaguing its efforts to move into a new, post-Pascual era. There have been lots more changes in Barcelona again this summer as new coach Sito Alonso – formerly with Baskonia – has been joined by seven fresh faces among the players. Proof of the transformation to Barcelona's roster in recent times is that only four players – Juan Carlos Navarro, Pau Ribas, Alexander Vezenkov and Ante Tomic – remain from Pascual's last EuroLeague game in charge, a playoffs defeat to Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar just 18 months ago. After such a tumultuous interim, Barcelona would now love to enjoy stability under Alonso, and there would be no better way of starting that process than a victory over the man who delivered so much success at the Palau Blaugrana over the past decade.
Serbian strength in clash of champions
As the reigning 7DAYS EuroCup and EuroLeague champions go head to head on the first night of the season Thursday, a strong Serbian influence on both sides of the court will go a long way towards deciding the outcome. Nikola Kalinic, Bogdan Bogdanovic and, of course, head coach Zeljko Obradovic all played major roles in Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul's EuroLeague triumph last season. Although Bogdanovic has now departed, his roster spot has been filled by another Serb, Marko Guduric, who would love to replicate the success enjoyed by his compatriot predecessor. This week's opponents Unicaja Malaga also boast a trio of Serbs: Nemanja Nedovic, Dejan Musli and Dragan Milosavljevic. The first two were key components in last season's EuroCup title, with Musli leading the team in performance index rating (14.1 per game), while Nedovic did so in assists (3.5 per game). New signing Milosavljevic is reuniting with Musli after they spent two seasons together at Partizan Belgrade between 2014 and 2016. As Milosavljevic spent the past summer on international duty with Guduric – and those two will now have to stop each other – there will be more than a little familiarity as southern Spain adopts a distinctly Serbian flavor on Thursday.