Craig Rayner provides a review of the 2013/14 Euroleague (and EuroCup) season with a deliberate focus on the Australians in action.
The blue and yellow confetti of 2013/14 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Champions Maccabi Tel Aviv has only just been swept up off the Mediolanum Forum floor in Milan, bringing a close to what was an amazing season. We can now catch our collective breath and reflect on the season that was for those players who bleed Australian green and gold while competing in Europe’s top continental leagues.
There is no going past that the new champions have versatile Australian forward Joe Ingles on their books, who arrived in Israel this season for the very purpose of lifting a Euroleague trophy.
With the opportunity to play under renowned European coaching stalwart David Blatt, who saw Ingles’ progression over the years first hand including at previous World Championships and Olympics while coaching the Russian national team. It was also an opportunity for the 6’8 swingman to play a more pivotal role than previously on a star laden FC Barcelona team where he played for the last 3 seasons. This was evident in the Euroleague regular season in averaging 13 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists in 31 minutes across the first 5 games of the season.
However after those first 5 games, which included an outing against fellow Australian Aleks Maric’s Lokomotiv Kuban (where he racked up a Performance Index Rating of 30 only to be pipped for the Player of the Week award), Ingles’ minutes began to slide so much so that he averaged just under 17 minutes per game in the 4 game series win against Milan in the playoffs.
In reflection you could look at Ingle’s season from two angles. He ultimately ended up averaging only 2 minutes more per game for Maccabi than he did with FC Barcelona the season before. However the obvious tipping point to class Joe’s season a success is obviously being part of a Euroleague champion team, which FC Barcelona couldn’t accomplish in his time there.
The NBA buzz regarding Ingles appeared to increase through the season despite his minutes and ultimately numbers waning. Asked immediately after the Final Four victory in Milan about his future and whether it would be with Maccabi, he was non-committal and was already shifting his focus to winning the Israeli League title.
Heading towards the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup with at least a Euroleague trophy under the arm, while being healthy and carrying a decent amount of NBA and ultimately European buzz surrounding him, things look good for Ingles. A solid outing for the Boomers in Spain will only further cement his status as he looks to build on his 2012 Olympics performance where he averaged the most points per game of all non-NBA players competing in London.
The next most notable Australian this season in Europe was 6’11 center Aleks Maric, who enjoyed Eurocup championship success last season with Lokomotiv Kuban and as such looked forward to participating in the Euroleague again.
Coming off an all Euroleague 1st Team season in Serbia with Partizan Belgrade in 2009/10, Maric found himself in Greece with Panathinaikos for two seasons where opportunities were limited. He did ultimately earn the 2011 Euroleague championship as the Greek giants accounted for Maccabi Tel Aviv that year in Barcelona.
Two seasons later in Russia with Lokomotiv Kuban, Maric unfortunately missed out on a playoffs berth in this season’s Euroleague courtesy of a points differential in favour of Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray.
While Maric averaged 17 minutes per game through the regular season, this was a reduction from logging 26 minutes per game a year earlier in their Eurocup winning season. His minutes were impacted by a number of new signings by Lokomotiv that bolstered their front line ready in preparation for Euroleague battle. In a strong regular season group that contained his former team Panathinaikos and eventual champions Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maric maintained a strong shooting percentage of 60% following a 12 point and 10 rebound double-double to start the season against Crvena Zvezda Belgrade.
While it was Galatasaray who ultimately halted Maric’s Euroleague season at the Top 16 stage, it was the Turkish club’s off season signing of Nathan Jawai from FC Barcelona that shone brightly before unfortunately having his season end prematurely after just two games.
In delivering 22 points and 5 rebounds against defending champions Olympiacos, Jawai suffered neck trauma after receiving a blow to the chin that required him to be hospitalised. After initial reports incorrectly stated his admission was due to problems relating to his history of heart issues, he was cleared to head back to Australia and commence the long road of six months rehabilitation at the Australian Institute of Sport.
With a one year renewal option on his contract with Galatasaray, it may be Jawai’s potential upcoming opportunity with the Boomers that sees where Nathan may end up next season. While he started contact practice in March, speaking with The Cairns Post in January, Jawai said he has his eyes firmly fixed on securing a Boomers World Cup spot for Spain later this year.
“I’m feeling good and I’m ready to get my body right and give myself a chance to play at the world champs,” he said at the time.
Another Aussie to fall victim to injury this season was David Barlow. After a number of seasons playing in the highly regarded ACB League in Spain, it was at the 2012 Olympics that ultimately convinced Barlow he wanted to experience Euroleague action. He then signed with Stelmet Zielona Gora in Poland who had secured a Euroleague debut for the 2013/14 season.
Averaging a solid 23 minutes per game across his first three Euroleague matches of the season, Barlow would be released by the club in early January after suffering a serious achilles injury. He has since been rehabilitating the injury in Australia.
To the contrary of Jawai and Barlow who both fell victim to injury, a self imposed rest after last year’s FIBA Oceania Championships by David Andersen meant a delayed start to his season in Europe. A stalwart in Europe for over a decade that has seen him secure multiple Euroleague titles, Andersen’s break was taken with a view to being able to push through until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Andersen resisted signing any contracts until his body was ready. That time came in January when he signed for French team Strasbourg, coached by French national team Head Coach Vincent Collet.
Strasbourg had started the season in the Euroleague but would enjoy the fruits of a new rule that is akin to football’s Champions League/Europa Cup relationship where teams who do not progress to the next stage of the continent’s premier league, join the second tier league in its second stage. Strasbourg found themselves as one of these teams after finishing the Euroleague regular season with a 3-7 record and on the bottom of their group.
Andersen joined Strasbourg in January when their backs were against the wall in the Eurocup, battling to make the next stage. After debuting in France in the domestic Pro A LNB league days earlier, Andersen must have been playing on adrenaline in tackling compatriots Mark Worthington and Steve Markovic’s old team Radnicki Kragujevac in Serbia in contributing 11 points and 6 rebounds. This effort would be in vain in an unfortunate loss that would ultimately play a big part in Strasbourg not progressing to the Eighth Finals. Andersen’s Eurocup season would end at just three appearances. Having signed through until season’s end, Andersen now looks to help Strasbourg progress in the French domestic league playoffs where they are strongly favored to win the national title.
With Andersen’s cameo in the Eurocup being brief, Ryan Broekhoff enjoyed a much longer run with Turkish side Besiktas Istanbul. Unlike Ingles whose minutes decreased as the season progressed, Broekhoff’s time on court soared to the point where he averaged 34 minutes per game in his team’s Eighth Finals series loss to Nizhny Novgorod. With a solid European debut season under his belt, it will be interesting to see how his contractual option for a second year with the club will pan out.
Not only will Broekhoff’s future be one to keep an eye on but so will all Australians as it is quite possible all will be at different teams next year given their various contractual situations. Hopefully the dominos fall in a way where they remain in the Euroleague and continue to keep Australia on the global basketball map.
A potential influx of players to Europe such as Cameron Bairstow and Chris Goulding, who are currently chasing an NBA dream could further boost that profile.