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Interview: Marco Baldi Of Alba Berlin

The German Beko BBL is the fastest growing basketball league and once again set a new attendance record. The German teams attracted more than 1.5 million fans during the 13-14 season.

Eight-time German champion Alba Berlin set the highest standard with an average attendance of 10,659 fans per game. These results might be surprising for most of European basketball fans but not for the general manager of Alba Berlin, Marco Baldi, who was working towards this direction for about a decade. Baldi and his team’s effort were recognized by Euroleague as he won the Euroleague's Club Executive of the Year for the 08-09 season award and his team received Euroleague wild card for the second time in last three years. 

RealGM sat down with Baldi in Berlin to talk about his vision for Alba, German basketball, the financial side of European basketball, their upcoming friendly game against San Antonio Spurs and much more. 

RealGM: First of all, how would you evaluate your team's performance during the 13-14 season?

Baldi: We should consider what we did before the season; I am talking about a complete renewal of the team. We only kept one junior player and one veteran player, while all the other players were recruited and were here for the first time. The circumstances have also changed in Germany as we now have Bayern Munich, who are what they are and they are ready to invest appropriately. Brose Baskets have also found a kind of an investor, who has a very strong relation to the club and he kind of takes it personal. Therefore he is also ready to invest, he can afford it because he is a billionaire. That means we have strong competition there and we have clubs within our league who are always able to top our offers, which changes a little bit the picture of German basketball.

We did a kind of step back; we did not go for big names. We found of good mixture of young players, who are ready to kill, ready to develop. With a very good work ethic, but no big names. We found great chemistry and combination of more experienced and internationally-proven guys such David Logan or Cliff Hammonds and also young foreigners who had their first tests to show if they can make that next step, like Reggie Redding. Also adding young players to this mixture worked out very well. You cannot forget our winning streak, which helped to build our confidence. If I have to draw a line, I would say it was unexpectedly beautiful season.  

It is my 25th year here and I cannot remember a team that would put this much heart and effort on the court. Talent and skill wise, this team was not at the highest standard, but every single member was ready to work, ready to contribute. There was no jealousy and it was a huge pleasure to work with this team. Most of them are on the contract for the next season, including the young guys because this is the way we are heading. If you only look at the results, there is a title we won (Cup Trophy); we made it to the very last stage at the domestic league. Eurocup is a very underrated competition, which does not have this glamour effect that Euroleague has, but it is a very tough competition. Sometimes I think it is even tougher than Euroleague because the arenas you play are more difficult, travelling sometimes is more difficult as well. It is a very tough competition and we made it to the last eight and then lost to the champion Valencia. 

All in all, I think we had a good season. For us it is always very important that we had great support from the spectators. We had a relation between people who are interested in the club and they had a very high-identification with the team, which is a very important thing for us. People saw that this team is leaving its heart on the court and is giving everything. You might have some games that are not on the highest level or you lose them, they can forgive us as long as people see that the effort is there and they see the purpose. It has been a fantastic season. 

RealGM: You have mentioned the changes in German basketball. Alba is an eight-time German champion, but the last time the team won the championship was six years ago. Are those changes the main reasons of that?

Baldi: I think only Bayern Munich has the potential to dominate the league. But it is just the economical potential. It is an important part and the higher budget you have, more likely you win the league, but even for them it took couple of years to win the title. I don’t think within next five or ten years there will be one team that will completely dominate like it used to be with Bayer Leverkuen and Alba. The competition is much more balanced and it is very competitive. There is not a single game that you can win without the right approach. This has radically changed. I remember that around 2000 there were four or five teams that you can beat by just being there and doing your job. But it is not like that anymore. You need to prepare for each game, you need maximum effort because otherwise you might lose. I think this is what people want to see and what makes competition better. It increases our level every year and now we have six or seven teams that without having red faces could say they want to be in best four or go all the way to the final. They are not dreamers, they have the right, infrastructure and they have potential to achieve that. This is what makes basketball in Germany more attractive. There used to be one team and others were trying to shoot from the distance. 

RealGM: For many years Alba has had amazing attendance numbers. This season you had an average of 10,000 spectators per game. How did you build this large fan base? Where did these results come from? 

Baldi: First of all, Berlin is an interesting market because there are a lot of people, I am talking about modern and international people. On the other hand, at this moment we have 104 teams in the first division. Just in volleyball, I think there are three. The competition here is huge. But this is just sports as on the other hand, Berlin offers many other things as for instance people come here for only weekends to party and they leave two days later. This is another competition. We started to work on this around 12-14 years ago; we did not wait for the people to come the gate but we went out. We have six people working with tickets who do nothing else than developing ticketing programs, contacting people and do groups sales. There is a lot of effort there. Another thing is that we have a huge youth program. At this moment, there are 85 youth coaches under our umbrella who go to schools and they teach basketball there in the name of Alba club. We do that in Brandenburg area, while in Berlin we have contracts with 60 schools. All together, it is 3,000 kids and they all have friends and family, and they come to the games.  

Of course, we also have special ticketing programs, but this is how we work. First of all, let’s make a platform where people could actively participate on Alba Berlin, I mean by playing the game. This one part, and the other is an aggressive ticketing, which means we are not waiting for people to come to the gates, but we go out, we sell to corporations, we sell to groups. There is not a one institution in Berlin that we have not contacted yet in order to sell them tickets. This is our investment. Also we keep our people motivated and we give them competitive salary. Maybe we could have a better player but then we might not have fans in the arena. We believe in sustainability - the more fans come, the better our image will be and maybe we will have a chance to increase the culture of our team. Also we are used to work on a market. We have never been organized in a way that we rely on a sheikh, a millionaire or a city. We are always working on a market and this is how we grow. This was built over years.

RealGM: It seems that everything Alba does is based on financial or other logic, however, in the offseason teams like Alba has to compete with teams which do not have large fan bases and they pay the players unreasonable amounts of money. Does that bother you and do you think there will be a salary cap or any financial regulation in the future? 

Baldi: When you grow up in basketball in general, you are used to competition. There will always be a one who has more or who is nicer. This is one part. I think Euroleague is going towards this direction that you are talking about by so-called financial fair play. They know that it is not healthy if clubs with the biggest budgets in the Euroleague depends just on one person. We see what happened to Montepaschi Siena. It was a typical monostructural club, depending on one institution, which was a bank, and once that bank faced problems, the team is in trouble as well. We are not waiting for the sheikh. Maybe he will come, but we are not waiting for him. And if he does not come, we will not blame anyone. We are also not blaming anyone that are in the market with much higher salaries because that cannot be avoided but at the end, they might not even pay, as it happens often in basketball. For this kind of approach, there should be a very clear regulations. Euroleague is working towards this direction as they offer ticketing programs, teach you how to work with the fans, they offer marketing programs as well. If we want to develop European basketball, we can only do it with sustainability. We cannot do it by just waiting for people who might invest some money in basketball because they consider it to be fun. Or if they see basketball team as a toy or a thing of personal interest. We cannot give our basketball into these hands.  

Of course, this is not specifically a basketball problem as we have in football teams such PSG or Chelsea, where you have these situations. I am not crying that Russians or somebody else have more money because this situation has been like this for years. Previously it was Greece, who offered two or three times more money than you could even think of, but they never got paid and players were off the market at the time. There are some regulations now and we should continue to work on this situation. On the other hand, it is always important for basketball to have investors. But most sustainable investors are these who get something back, not those who do it for fun. There are exceptions like Panathinaikos situations, where a family has been investing for so long, they have my respect. On the other hand, it cannot be a model for a European basketball.

RealGM: Where do you see German championship ranked among European competitions in five or ten years?

Baldi: It is very difficult to say, but German league has a goal to become the best league in Europe by 2020. But what is the best league? Best basketball, highest attendance, best TV coverage? The criteria are not so easy to define. I think we really improved in the last years. Definitely, in order to make the next step, we need more German players. We are working on this very hard. At the moment, we have some kind of misbalance because some of the teams in Germany feel nervous that you have to pay very high salaries for German, comparing with the prices in the international market. On the other hand, to give players motivation, we need those regulations we have now in order to motivate and develop German players. Spain or Lithuania, I think they make their living because they have so many great players. Maybe they have other weaknesses such weak economy, inexperience in marketing or ticketing or other things, but they have the core, which are players and coaches. We need to work on this direction and we need to improve.

Answering your question, I think now Spain is stronger and then I am not sure who is second. Because you have those typical situations in Israel or Greece, where you have one or two very dominant teams. Italy? Not really. France? Stable but we are there.

RealGM: No German players made it to All-BBL First or Second team this season. Is the fact that players from abroad dominate the German league your biggest worry?

Baldi: I do not think that the problem is foreigners dominating the league, but we definitely need more higher-level German players. If we were good and foreigners would still dominate the league, then why not. At the best time of Italian league Bob McAdoo and players like him was dominating. When Italy had golden era, they had many great international players. What you said is one of the biggest worries and it is something that we need to work on; bring more German basketball players to the highest level. We started ten years ago collecting kids from schools to teach them basketball. And it starts from there. In Lithuania, probably the first sport young kids meet is basketball, while here in Germany they get in touch with soccer, then more soccer, then maybe a little bit of handball, then volleyball and then maybe some basketball, which is taught by someone who is better in soccer (laughing). And we need to change that. The best place where it can happen is school. Of course, most of kids who are involved in our training program will do it for fun but who wants more, they come to our club, they get their practices and support. If you want to move further, all the options are there. This season we won the junior title and the results are slowly coming up. We started ten years ago when they were six years old. Now they are 16-year-old and it will take another five or six years and then we will have the benefits. 

This is Berlin only and we gave to do it nationwide. Berlin is a specific place, while in other places, maybe even rural areas you must use other concept. The number of people playing basketball must be increased and then of course we need to improve coaching quality, referees because it is all connected. But first step is to bring young kids to basketball. We already made some steps; there are requirements from the league now. If you want to participate in the top league, you must work with youth. It is not you want it or not, you have to. We are improving in that but it will take certain time to grow more quality players. The circumstances are right for that and there is no excuse.

RealGM: In your opinion, what the future holds for German national team after the retirement of Dirk Nowitzki?

Baldi: First of all, the German national team was depending a lot on Nowitzki. I think it was a miracle that the guy who was really exhausted after a long season was still involved and had a special role there. He was still coming back to Germany and played for Germany. At the same time, everyone understands that this is over. Maybe he might play in a game or two, but more or less this is over. For this reason I think we need to create a certain spirit and bring something to play for this team. I’m talking about the approach “Dirk is there, I’m coming” and “oh no, Dirk is not there, I’m not coming, I need to rest”. This is the first thing that needs to be done. Then it is again, players development is not a thing that you can do in two years, it will take time. We have many good players, of course not as many as Lithuania or Greece, which are smaller countries. Talking about material if we compare Germany with Italy, I would not say that they are on a higher level. I think until German national team will be really strong, I am talking about making to the final four of European championship, it is going to take some time. Maybe five years. We could find something better with Nowitzki and Chris Kaman, but that would not be natural. To develop our players, get to the next level, it is going to take us about four-five years.

RealGM: Did you expect to get a wild card from Euroleague and what does this extra attention from Euroleague means for the team?

Baldi: Yes, I think they appreciate what we do because they see the way we are working. They also understood that German competition is not so easy to win. We have their support and they like the model we have here. We are grateful to have their support. On the other hand, there are sports ranking with different criteria. Sports criteria, TV ranking, fans attendance. If you look there now, we are here and it is not a big surprise for us. Even last year we were there but they chose Budivelnik Kyiv because they could not foresee what is going to happen in Ukraine but they saw this possibility with Ukraine having European championship and basketball growth there. 

Of course we have our limits because we do not have an investor who would not care about the money and would buy every player we want. There is a high-consistency, sustainability and we spend only the money that we generate. Sometimes it is a little bit boring because it is more exacting when you have guys from the NBA coming to play for your team. But on the other hand, we cannot afford this. They analyze the cities and that is why we got the support. Also, whenever we played in the Euroleague, except once, we always made it to the Top 16. There are many explanations to choose Berlin basketball, the market is interesting and we have proved that we are serious.

RealGM: Despite Berlin being a huge market, do you see Alba becoming a European powerhouse by going this “I spend as much as I generate only” way?

Baldi: Of course it is possible. At the same time, the regulations should be adapted as well. Two or three years ago there was a report by a company, which analyses sports business, that the basketball section of FC Barcelona had 30 million euros turnover with six million euros revenue. As long it is going to be like this, we have no chance. Again, I am not crying and I am not blaming anyone for this. I think we have to come to reasonable terms and we will develop in this direction. Investors must feel comfortable in the Euroleague and they must see that it is attractive to invest there. We need to build the sustainability, otherwise, as we see with Siena, an elite league cannot afford to have protagonist who suddenly disappear. It just cannot happen. It will come but it is a process. It will definitely help us but we need to work ourselves as well. We need to find people who are ready to invest in our project and want to work on sustainability. We see people put a lot of money, they do not win and then they just come home and do something else like horse riding. That is why we need sustainability and we are developing into this direction. We might not become a powerhouse in five years but the market, Berlin allows it, and the arena is here, the potential. We cannot have CSKA approach - whenever you offer we can top it, we want to have this player. This cannot be our approach and it is not going to be. 

RealGM: What was your first reaction when you heard officially that Alba is going to compete against the San Antonio Spurs? What are your expectations for the game?

Baldi: I cannot say this because Dirk will be disappointed, but I was hoping to play against San Antonio Spurs because it is much better to play against NBA champions. That is my favorite team in the NBA, I followed them all the years. We are happy that we had an opportunity to play Dallas Mavericks. And this is what people want to see - local team playing against an NBA team. We had Washington Wizards and New Orleans Hornets in Berlin in 2009 and you cannot compare the revenues and TV coverage with the game that Alba was involved. People want to see great NBA teams, in this case it is going to be the best one, playing against the home team. If NBA teams play against each other, it might work in London, but it does not work in Berlin. I am sure that if Indiana Pacers would come to Kaunas to play against Zalgiris, that is what people would like to see. You were asking when we will become a powerhouse but do not forget that this is going to be our 25th season. This is still a young club and this event fits our anniversary season perfectly. We are very honored and we will try to do everything to play a very good role there. We do not have to motivate our guys and we have some experience as we played against the Mavericks here. Different rules and the atmosphere is a little bit different as well. But you have to adapt, even if it for one game. I do not want to say that the result will not count but especially for our young guys, just to play against the top of the top is fantastic. This is a great opportunity.

RealGM's 2012-13 Euroleague Awards

For the third consecutive year, RealGM presents the most outstanding players of Euroleague.

Victor Khryapa of CSKA Moscow is the winner of the RealGM Euroleague MVP award for the 2012-13 season. The 30-year-old forward has improved all of his main statistical numbers this season, averaging 10 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Khryapa has also helped his team, which holds a 23-5 record this season, to defeat Caja Laboral Vitoria in the playoffs to reach the Final Four.

For the second consecutive year, the RealGM Euroleague MVP award was given to a Russian player, as the winner of last season's prize was Andrei Kirilenko of CSKA Moscow.

The RealGM All-Euroleague First Team consists of Montepaschi's Bobby Brown and Olympiacos' Vassilis Spanoulis at guard, Khryapa and Maccabi's Shawn James at forward and CSKA's Nenad Krstic at center.

The RealGM All-Euroleague Second Team includes guards Jordan Farmar of Anadolu Efes and Zoran Planinic of Khimki, forwards Rudy Fernandez and Nikola Mirotic of Real and center Ante Tomic of Barcelona Regal.

Paul Davis of Khimki Moscow region is the winner of the Euroelague Rookie of the Year Award, while Aron Baynes (formerly of Union Olimpija before joining the San Antonio Spurs) was the RealGM pick to win the Most Improved Played Award.

Georgios Bartzokas of Olympiacos was named as the 2012-13 Euroleague Coach of the Year, while Kyle Hines (also from Olympiacos) is the winner of the 2012-13 Euroleague Sixth Man of the Year Award.

Euroleague MVP

Victor Khryapa (CSKA)

All-Euroleague 1st Team

Bobby Brown (Montepaschi): 18.8 points, 5.3 assists in 33 minutes

Vassilis Spanoulis (Olympiacos) - 14.7 points, 2.1 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 30 minutes

Victor Khryapa (CSKA) - 10 points (45% 3FG), 7.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 28 minutes

Shawn James (Maccabi): 11.5 points (64% 2FG), 6.5 rebounds in 24 minutes  

Nenad Krstic (CSKA) - 13.6 points (63% 2FG), 4.6 rebounds in 24 minutes

All-Euroleague 2nd Team

Jordan Farmar (Anadolu Efes): 13.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 30 minutes

Zoran Planinic (Khimki): 12.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists in 31 minutes

Rudy Fernandez (Real): 13.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 27 minutes

Nikola Mirotic (Real): 11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds in 25 minutes

Ante Tomic (Barcelona Regal) - 11.5 points (63% 2FG), 6.3 rebounds in 23 minutes

Sixth Man Award

Kyle Hines (Olympiacos) - 9.1 points, 5.9 rebounds in 20 minutes

Most Improved Player Award

Aron Baynes (Union Olimpija) - 13.8 points, 9.8 rebounds in 26 minutes

Coach of the Year

Georgios Bartzokas (Olympiacos)

Rookie of the Year

Paul Davis (Khimki)

All-Rookie 1st Team

Paul Davis (Khimki) - 13.4 points, 5.5 rebounds in 20 minutes

Ricky Hickman (Maccabi) - 13.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 29 minutes

Blake Schilb (Elan Chalon) - 15.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4 assists in 33 minutes

Marcus Williams (Unicaja) - 10.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 22 minutes

Shelden Williams (Elan Chalon) - 11.3 points, 7.6 rebounds in 23 minutes

All-Rookie 2nd Team

Drew Gordon (Partizan) - 9.1 points, 7.5 rebounds in 29 minutes

Lukasz Koszarek (Asseco Prokom) - 11.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 4 assists in 30 minutes

Kelvin Rivers (Khimki) - 9.6 points, 2.7 rebounds in 26 minutes

Dashaun Wood (Alba) - 9.8 points, 2.5 assists in 24 minutes

Maik Zirbes (Brose Baskets) - 8.2 points, 5 rebounds in 20 minutes

24 Questions For The Start Of Euroleague

As the 12-13 Euroleague season begins, RealGM presents 24 questions for the Euroleague fans.

1. Was Alba worthy of the Euroleague wildcard?

Thanks to their amazing game attendance numbers, Alba Berlin received a wildcard from the Euroleague this offseason, letting compete in the top European competition once again. Having Elan Chalon and Asseco Prokom Gdynia in their group, Alba has a good chance of making it out of the group and prove they were worthy of the wildcard.

2. Was Jordan Farmar a player Anadolu Efes has been missing for years?

Anadolu Efes Istanbul has arguably spent more on their team without receiving a good return than any other team in Euroleauge. Anadolu Efes has always been a team full of stars and it won't be any different this season. However, Jordan Farmar was an MVP candidate last season in his short stint with Maccabi and he's capable of helping the Turkish team make a long run this Euroleague season.

3. Can Asseco Prokom win more games than last season?

Asseco Prokom won just one game last season and it doesn't seem like it's going to be any better this year. The Polish team didn't construct a competitive roster this offseason and making it to the Top 16 would be a huge surprise. On the other hand, it can't get any worse for Asseco Prokom.

4. When Khimki will end road losing streak in Euroleague?

Eurocup winners Khimki Moscow Region has been known as a home team, as its last Euroleague away win came against Caja Laboral in Vitoria back in 09-10 season. Khimki lost six road games in a row and eight out of its last nine. 

5. Did Besiktas have enough time for team-building?

EuroChallenge winners Besiktas brought in ten new players, a head coach and completely changed the face of the team. Of course, Besiktas beat Anadolu Efes to win the Presidential Cup, but as the Turkish championship hasn't started yet, the new-look Besiktas comes to the Euroleague with no games-that-matters experience.

6. Will we see the old Bostjan Nachbar this season?

Just a couple of years ago Brose Basket's Bostjan Nachbar was one of the best small forwards in Europe, but injuries have slowed down the Slovenian's career. As Nachbar demonstrated in preseason, he feels very comfortable in Bamberg, but there's a question is he ready to lead the lead and finally fight for an MVP award.

7. Can Andres Nocioni lead Caja Laboral to the Euroleague Final Four?

It's been more than four since since Caja Laboral last played in the Euroleague final four. After missing Top 16 last season, it didn't seem that Caja Laboral is moving in the right direction, but the acquisition of Andres Nocioni could change everything. Nocioni is back in the Euroleague after eight years break and will play his first game since April 2004.

8. Is Cedevita capable of creating a miracle in group C?

Anadolu Efes, Caja Laboral, Olympiakos, Zalgiris and EA7 Emporio Armani. Cedevita of Croatia will be competing in 'millionaires group C with clubs, which has intentions to go all the way to the Final Four. Cedevita made a great effort this offseason on building a competitive roster, but it might not be enough to kick off two of those five teams to advance to the Top 16.

9. Does Ettore Messina plus CSKA equals Euroleague titles?

Four-time Euroleague champion Ettore Messina is back in Moscow, where he won his last Euroleague title back in 2008. Messina didn't succeed in Spain with Real as he won only 56% Euroleague games they played, but coming back to Russia feels like a homecoming for Messina. And there's no better place to fight for the Euroleague trophy than at home.

10. How much more money does EA7 Emporio Armani need to spend to finally reach Top 8?

Last season, EA7 Emporio Armani, same as every year, spend millions of Euros to build a team capable of fighting for a spot in Euroleague final four. Unfortunately for Olimpia Milano fans, as always, the Italian team failed to meet the expectations and opened its pocket even wider this offseason. If Milan team won't make it to the Top 8 this season, how much more money they have to spend to finally do that?

11. Will we see a French team in Euroleague Top 16 in next five years?

2007 was the year when Pau-Orthez, made it to the Top 16, and all French clubs have failed to do repeat the feat in the following seasons. Elan Chalon doesn't have much of a chance to change the history this season and here comes the question is there going to be a French team, capable of making it out the regular season group.

12. What is easier for FC Regal Barcelona - beating an NBA team in a preseason game or making it to the Euroleague Final Four?

Some call European teams wining against NBA clubs 'historic', but it's become routine for FC Regal Barcelona to beat NBA in the preseason games marathon as they did that for the third time on Tuesday. After beating the 76ers in 2006, Lakers in 2010, the Mavericks were next on their list this season. However, after a sluggish start in Spanish Championship (0-2), there is confusion where FC Regal Barcelona stands now and will they sort out their problems during the Euroleague regular season.

13. Is the wait for Fenerbahce Ulker fans over?

Bo McCalebb is a game changer and their primary MVP candidate heading into Euroleague. He's teaming up in Istanbul again with familiar faces - Romain Sato, David Andersen and Simone Panigiani. Does that mean Fenerbahce Ulker finally found its saviors who will carry the Turkish club to the top?

14. Could the game against CSKA be the last for Aleksandar Dzikic?

Lietuvos Rytas was sluggish in preseason and had a rough start in VTB United League where they lost the last game against Spartak by 27 points. Over the next week, Lietuvos Rytas will be facing CSKA and FC Regal Barcelona and knowing how impatient the owners of Vilnius club can be, a terrible performance in Moscow might lead to the departure of head coach Aleksandar Dzikic.

15. Does Maccabi have enough talent to maintain the high standard?

Maccabi Tel Aviv doesn't seem to be as dominant on paper as they have in recent seasons. Six Maccabi players have never played in the Euroleague before. David Blatt will have a quite big challenge to maintain Maccabi among the elite with the talent he has right now.

16. Is Cantu going to be the best Italian team in this year's Euroleague?

It's not a big secret that with the departure of McCalebb, Montepaschi lost a big part of its strength and might not be as dominant as we have come to expect. That means Marpooro Cantu, which was in the Euroleague qualification, has a great chance to become the number one Italian team in Euroleague if they repeat their last season's success.

17. What is next for Montepaschi?

The post-McCalebb era has begun for Montepaschi, who have been king of Italian club basketball for years. After the core of team left for Turkey, Montepaschi, which has only six Italians on its squad, decided to rely on foreigners. It's a rebuilding year for Siena, but how painful is it going to be?

18. Would Olympiakos still be an underdog in the London Final Four?

Except for the head coach, the Euroleague champions maintained all main parts of its team to repeat their last season's success and everything seems to be bright for Olympiakos. Despite winning a championship, Olympiakos still seems to be an elite team without being elitist, but that could only benefit them in the long run.

19. What is going to be a post-Obradovic life for Panathinaikos?

Without question, Zeljko Obradovic had been a huge part of making Panathinaikos the most successful European club in the last decade. Four Euroleague titles speak for themself. But does the departure of Obradovic means that the glory days of Panathinaikos are over?

20. Which of the young Partizan stars will have the best season?

Partizan is full of talent this season, with players such as Leo Westermann, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Davis Bertans, Dejan Musli and many others. With coach Dusko Vujosevic back in Belgrade, who of these players will make an immediate impact for Partizan this season?

21. Will better bench depth lead Real to the final?

Real Madrid has everything it takes to accomplish big things in Euroleague this season. Talent, stars, size, experience and probably the best bench in the league. Most of Real's substitutes could be starting five members in nine out of ten others Euroleague clubs and that could be a decisive power in the playoffs.

22. Can Unicaja advance beyond the Top 16?

Clearly, it's difficult to see Unicaja not making it out of the group, especially as they'll compete with lower caliber teams like Asseco Prokom, Alba and Elan Chalon, but their chances to make a long run is less certain. Fran Vazquez is a great replacement for Joel Freeland, but Unicaja still has many problems, which have to be sorted.

23. Can a one million Euro budget team win a Euroleague game?

Union Olimpija don't have many things to be happy about. The Slovenian club's budget is just one million Euro and as there are not enough funds to sign high profile athletes, nine of its players have never played in the Euroleague before. Union Olimpija will compete in a tough group A and there's a huge chance Ljubljana club will finish its Euroleague season without a single win.

24. Will Zalgiris finally reach the Top 8?

It's the same old question, and it's the same story every season. It didn't matter how much talent Zalgiris had, they won just four matches in Top 16 since 2004 and holds an awful 4-32 record. This year, Zalgiris built a very strong team and brought in a new coach, Joan Plaza, but is this enough to break the curse?

European Domestic League Power Rankings For February

We are past the halfway point in all of the European National Domestic Leagues and with January fully in the books, it is an opportune time to check in on team rankings for Spain, Italy, Greece, Russia, France, Turkey, Lithuania, Serbia, Croatia, Germany, Israel & more.

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