Seeing its record for consecutive Final Four qualifications halted one year ago proved more than enough motivation for CSKA Moscow to return as a favorite this season to an event that has become like its second home. CSKA's absence from the 2011 edition ended its remarkable run of eight consecutive Final Four appearances, a record that's likely to stand the test of time, considering that no other team has managed to qualify for more than four in a row. Having returned to its comfort zone, CSKA can now focus on expanding its collection of six previous Euroleague trophies to move within one of the all-time leader, Real Madrid. Although its first four continental crowns were won between 1961 and 1971, two more victories in four title-game appearances from 2006 to 2009 prove that CSKA has everything it takes to build a modern dynasty, too.
CSKA's recent success can be traced to very demanding standards met again and again over its long history. Founded in 1924, CSKA has won 24 Soviet Union League titles and 18 Russian League trophies, including the last nine editions. CSKA won its first Euroleague title in 1961 and lifted the trophy again in 1963, 1969 and 1971 with head coach Alexander Gomelskiy, scoring guard Sergey Belov, center Vladimir Andreev and power forward Gennadiy Volnov as its main references. After a down period that began in the late 1980s, CSKA returned to the European elite by reaching the Euroleague Final Four in 1996 and the SuproLeague Final Four in 2001.
Since then, CSKA has become a model of consistency in pro basketball, reaching every Final Four between 2003 and 2010. Theo Papaloukas, J.R. Holden, Matjaz Smodis, Trajan Langdon, David Andersen and head coach Ettore Messina, among many others, enabled CSKA to lift the Euroleague trophy in 2006 and 2008. In 2006, CSKA downed two-time defending champion Maccabi in Prague for its first continental crown in 35 years. CSKA beat Maccabi again in the 2008 title game. It also reached title games in 2007 and 2009, only to lose a pair of all-time classic finals by two points each against Panathinaikos Athens.
After an underwhelming Euroleague season last year, CSKA moved aggressively in the off-season market, landing Milos Teodosic, Nenad Krstic and Andrei Kirilenko, while keeping Viktor Khryapa, Ramunas Siskauskas and Alexey Shved. Any doubt that CSKA had forgotten how to dominate was erased when it became the only team to finish the regular season undefeated. Its 10-0 record included two prestigious wins against defending champion Panathinaikos: 76-78 after overtime in Athens behind 14 points by Siskauskas, and 91-75 at home with 17 points from Krstic.
CSKA faced a tough Top 16 group featuring Anadolu Efes, Galatasaray Medical Park and Olympiacos, but won its first game against each to stay completely out of trouble. CSKA bounced back from its first Euroleague loss, on the road to Galatasaray, by hitting 11 of 12 first-half three-pointers on its way to a 96-64 home win against Olympiacos that guaranteed a playoff spot.
In the playoffs against Gescrap BB of Spain, CSKA stayed undefeated at home by winning the first two contests in their best-of-five series by an average of 28 points as Krstic scored 18 in Game 1 and Kirilenko 20 in Game 2. Despite a road loss in Game 3, CSKA clinched its Final Four return with a 71-73 victory as Kirilenko dominated Game 4 in Bilbao. CSKA reaches the Final Four having led the 2011-12 Euroleague in assists, averaging 19.5, and performance index rating, with 102.5 per game, while pleasing fans with physical defense and a fun-to-watch playing style full of fastbreaks and alley-oops.
In his first full season on CSKA's bench, head coach Jonas Kazlauskas has assembled a rock-solid team in which all of his main players feel important. What makes CSKA a unique team, however, is its competitive character, built through decades of success and challenges. If you play for CSKA, you must win as much as possible, a simple yet difficult goal. The CSKA jersey carries a legacy that each player feels bound to honor. If that winning character leads to a seventh continental crown in Istanbul, CSKA will write a new chapter in basketball's history books.