This Week's Games: Welcome back!

Sep 28, 2020 by Euroleague.net Print
This Week's Games: Welcome back!

We've had to wait a very long time, but finally the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is back! The season starts with some mouth-watering games in the opening round of the season. Here is your quick guide to the best of the action.

Everybody wins this week

Nearly seven months after the ball last bounced in earnest, the new Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season will get underway at 19:30 CET on Thursday as Anadolu Efes Istanbul welcomes Zenit St Petersburg.

Between now and season's end, the best teams on the continent will be going head to head on a weekly basis, leaving everything on the floor in hopes of ultimately being crowned EuroLeague champions. But the greatest triumph this week, seeing the EuroLeague back in action, is shared by each and every club and all the fans who back them.

Being deprived of the chance to do the things we love for long periods of time is something we have never collectively experienced before, so the fact that this week brings the EuroLeague back to us is a genuine cause for celebration. Whichever team you support, this week we are all winners.

So whether first game results in Shane Larkin inspiring Efes to a big win or Xavi Pascual's Zenit causing a road upset, let's just savour the moment and enjoy every second.

Saras takes top billing in Barcelona

There will be big names on view wherever you happen to look in the opening round's most high-profile fixture as FC Barcelona plays host to the last champion, CSKA Moscow.

The home side had added to an already glittering cast of stars with the summer recruitment of pass master Nick Calathes, who will take charge of the backcourt alongside a man more eager than anyone to make up for lost time, fit-again Thomas Heurtel.

Sarunas Jasikevicius - FC Barcelona - Media Day 2020-21 - EB20

On the other side, CSKA has made an already-powerful roster even better by adding two dominant inside presences, Nikola Milutinov and Tornike Shengelia. Another huge plus for coach Dimitris Itoudis is the return of 2019 Final Four MVP Will Clyburn from injury.

But on this occasion, all of those top-class performers will be upstaged as the spotlight shifts to the sidelines, where Sarunas Jasikevicius will lead Barca into continental action for the first time. His was one of the most exciting coaching appointments possible, and fans all over Europe are eager to discover how Saras's return to Spain will work out. Thursday night could give us some clues.

A new era at Milan?

Barcelona was not the only club making major moves in the summer transfer market. Another exciting new project is taking shape at AX Armani Exchange Milan following a raft of top recruitments by experienced coach Ettore Messina.

The return of Gigi Datome to Italy after an absence of seven years has been complemented by the arrival of battle-hardened four-time EuroLeague champion Kyle Hines. The backcourt will now be marshalled by the dynamic Malcolm Delaney, with Kevin Punter adding scoring punch, Zach LeDay offering athleticism in the paint and Shavon Shields looking like a true glue guy.

Adding those players to existing talent like Sergio Rodriguez, Vladimir Micov and Kaleb Tarczewski, it's clear that Messina has a genuine chance of creating a team capable of making the playoffs – at the very least – if they can find the right chemistry to go with the undoubted ability.

Milan's new era starts with a trip to Germany on Friday night to face an FC Bayern Munich team which is also under new direction following the arrival of charismatic coach Andrea Trinchieri. Both teams will be aiming to make a fresh beginning in Round 1.

Kokoskov, new-look Fener take a bow

Another high-profile coaching change comes at Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, which has waved goodbye to the iconic Zeljko Obradovic following a seven-year reign that transformed the Turkish team from also-rans to perennial title contenders.

The man tasked with retaining that status for Fenerbahce into the immediate future is Igor Kokoskov, who has arrived in Istanbul to take his first senior club coaching role in Europe. The reigning European national champion with Slovenia, Kokoskov spent most of the last two decades in the United States, where he rose to become the NBA's first head coach born and raised outside of North America.

Igor Kokoskov - Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul Media Day 2020 - EB20_avx5w33q6q699u8u

The first task for Kokoskov is guiding his new team to a home victory on Friday evening against Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, which is also led by a new coach. Zvezda's own former player, Sasa Obradovic, brings loads of experience and a full understanding of the reasons behind the tenacious reputation the Belgrade club has earned in recent EuroLeague seasons.

Spanish derby concludes the week

The opening week comes to an exciting end on Friday night with an all-Spanish affair as TD Systems Baskonia welcomes Real Madrid to Vitoria-Gasteiz.

Under the leadership of veteran coach Dusko Ivanovic, in his third spell with the club, Baskonia finished last season by taking the Spanish League title. As such, Real will perhaps feel they have something to prove in asserting domestic supremacy.

Real has refreshed its roster for the coming campaign with the arrival of talented young Spanish players Carlos Alocen and Alberto Abalde, and their energy could prove invaluable against a Baskonia side which is sure to play at a high tempo on its home floor.

This game should deliver a colossal battle inside the paint, where new Baskonia center Tonye Jekiri goes head to head with Walter Tavares. Jekiri claimed more rebounds than any other player during last season's EuroLeague action (202) while playing for LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne. He was closely followed by Tavares (199), however, who dwarfed all other shot-blockers with 61 to the next-best total of 26. Their personal duel could be crucial in deciding the outcome.