Last week Partizan defeated Maccabi Electra 3 games to 1 in a best-of-five quarterfinal series in the Euroleague Basketball playoffs. They now qualify for the Final Four tourney to be held in Paris in early May. Maccabi is from Tel Aviv, Israel and for those readers not knowledgeable about basketball, the Euroleague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer. It is the premier professional club basketball league in Europe.
Above is the logo of club. On top it says шампиони which translated from the Serbian Cyrillic means champion. In the Serbian Latin alphabet, is reads a bit easier for English speakers – Šampioni. On the bottom, KK stands for košarkaški klub. Košarka is “basketball” in English. The name Partizan in the cyrillic script then follows. The team is named after Tito’s resistance army in World War II, hence the Red Star in the middle. The club was founded right after WWII in 1945 as part of a youth sports association in the People’s Army of Jugoslavia (JNA).
I’ve been thinking about the Euroleague and Partizan. I wonder how Partizan would do in America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) or in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). One point I want to make, the Euroleague should study the nba.com and espn.com web sites on how to market and cover its league. The Euroleague website really could do a lot more in promoting the teams and players. There is little in-depth information and commentary on the games or match-ups. They do not highlight star players at all. If I was running the Euroleague, I would make it a lot better. I know that basketball is not as popular in Europe and it needs to compete with soccer, but a David Stern-like commissioner could really raise its level of popularity and money earning. They need an American sense of marketing sports entertainment.
When I arrived to Serbia last year, I picked Red Star as my team. (note – I just read an article that describes how Red Star basketball is facing bankruptcy.) But this year, I have admired the Partizan basketball team and now am a big fan. Two of our students at the international school have parents on the management board and another two play for the youth teams. I have a connection to the team and hope they can win it all. Unlike most European countries, basketball is a bit more popular in Serbia than soccer, although the Serbian national soccer team is in this year’ s World Cup and Red Star won a Champions League title in 1991. This gives Partizan an advantage in that it has access to a big pool of good young players and the packed arenas with knowledgeable and rabid fans, makes them tough to beat at home. Other arenas are much quieter. Serbs are also tall, active, and tough generally as a culture and this also translates to good basketball teams.
Partizan plays an exciting, fundamentally sound style of basketball. A big factor is their coach, Duško Vujoševic. The guy began coaching at age 17 and spent most of his career in Italy. He must not have been much of a player. He is currently the coach of the national team of Montenegro besides Partizan.
Like all the Euroleague teams, Partizan does have several imported players and three start for Partizan. This also gives a good chance to compare Euroleague basketball to the NBA or NCAA. The type of American players that end up playing in Europe are those guys that had excellent university careers, but couldn’t stick with an NBA team. So considering they are a bit older than the current college players in the US and they had strong careers in the NCAA, I think that they would do well in the “March Madness’ tourney, but not so well in the NBA. The two Americans players for Partizan are 6-8 center Lawrence Roberts and 6 foot point guard Bo Maccalebb. Roberts used to play for Red Star so I have followed him for over a year. He was an All-American and the SEC Player of the Year for Mississippi State. Maccalebb was the Sun Belt Conference player of the year for the University of New Orleans. Both guys first played in Turkey or Greece before coming to Serbia. I would like to interview them to see how they like living in Belgrade. The other import is 6-11 Czech forward, Jan Vesely. He is very thin and more of a small forward than a power forward. The other two starters are Serbian. Dušan Kecman is a solid 6-5 shooting guard and Aleks Marić is a 6-11 center that is a force inside, averaging 17 points and 9 boards in Euroleague play this year. Marić is a Serb that grew up in Australia (many Serbs left during the war) and then had a good career at the University of Nebraska, being named to the All Big-12 team as a senior.
They also have a strong bench of young local talent. Slavko Vraneš is a 7-6 giant Montenegrin. He played one game for the New York Knicks. He is a bit slow, but he takes up a lot of space near the basket. Aleksandar Rasić is a good back up point guard. Partizan puts a lot of effort into its youth program and they produce many great players. Unfortunately, many of them eventually leave for more money on other European club teams.
I’ll be watching the Final Four in Paris. Partizan faces some stiff competition with three giants of Euroleague basketball also qualifying for the final four. Barcelona (with Minnesota Timberwolf prospect Ricky Rubio), CKSA Moscow (last year’s runner up), and Athens Olympiacos (also in Final Four last year). The format is knock-out, just like the NCAA Final Four, and they play Olympiacos on May 7th. I don’t understand the delay, perhaps the national leagues are finishing first.