Fenerbahce is the dark horse in this season’s Euroleague but its hopes of winning Turkey’s first title in the competition have been boosted by the arrival of the game’s most trophy-laden European coach Zeljko Obradovic.
The 53-year old Serb, who has won a record eight Euroleague titles with four different clubs, including five titles with Panathinaikos, took over at Fenerbahce during the close season after a one-year break from basketball and signed several household names in a bid to expand his trophy cabinet.
“Our primary goal is to play well and attract fans who will appreciate our effort but of course one of the objectives is to have a good season in Europe,» Obradovic told Euroleague television.
“I have come to a club with a great history and millions of fans and they surely expect big achievements.
“We have a very tough group including (former champion) CSKA Moscow and Barcelona, who are always title contenders and favourites to reach the Final Four, so every game will be vital for a berth in the Top 16.”
The marathon 24-team competition starts on Wednesday, when Fenerbahce’s cross-town rival Galatasaray visits Italian Montepaschi Siena and Germany’s Bamberg is at home to Strasbourg.
Fenerbahce, who last won the Turkish league title in 2011, will get its campaign underway with a visit to unfancied Ukrainian Budivelnik Kiev on Thursday, with CSKA Moscow away to French debutants JSF Nanterre and Barcelona entertaining 1992 winners Partizan Belgrade.
Holder Olympiakos Piraeus, who stunned its rivals when it won back-to-back titles in 2012 and last year with a trimmed budget resulting from the Greek economic crisis, is at home to Spanish outfit Unicaja Malaga on Friday. Greece’s other giant, Panathinaikos, is facing Lietuvos Rytas of Lithuania.
Beaten by Olympiakos in the 2012 final and last year’s semi-final although it was a strong favorite, CSKA will be out to win its seventh title buoyed by overseas exploits during the close season when it impressed with two outstanding performances against NBA rivals.
CSKA, who last won the title in 2008, upset the Minnesota Timberwolves 108-106 after a stellar performance from Serbia guard Milos Teodosic, formerly of Olympiakos, before stretching the San Antonio Spurs to their limits with a 95-93 defeat by the 2013 NBA finalists.
Barcelona has added versatile Greece forward Costas Papanikolaou from Olympiakos in a bid to erase the bitter memories of losing two successive semis, while last season’s finalist Real Madrid, who has won a record eight titles, signed his compatriot Yiannis Bouroussis from Milano.
The competition will include two Serbian teams for the first time with Partizan joined by bitter city foes Red Star, who will make its first Euroleague appearance since the 1999-2000 season.
Red Star meets Russian Lokomotiv Krasnodar in the cauldron of the Belgrade Arena on Thursday and club president Nebojsa Covic asked the expected contingent of 20,000 fans to behave.
“We have a slim budget and can afford no fines for misbehavior, hence I expect out supporters to be on their best behaviour while creating a spectacular atmosphere,» Covic told Belgrade daily Sporstki Zurnal.
“We can’t expect to reach the top 16 straight away after battling to stay afloat as a club for so long but we have grown in the last two years and will continue to do so.”
The preliminary group stage includes four groups of six teams. The top four from each group will advance to the second group stage, the Top 16, where they will be divided into two pools of eight.
The top four teams from each of those pools will advance to the quarter-finals, whose winners qualify for the May 16-18 Final Four in Milan.