With Euroleague’s new season coming up and the summer basketball activities all in the books, a combination of factors crossed Nicolò Origgi’s mind. With Ice Cube’s Big 3 league getting a lot of attention in the summer, our creatively minded Italian cooked up quite a recipe. What if we took the idea of the Big 3 and applied it to Euroleague sides and their recently retired stars. Behold the Euroleague answer to the Big 3, it may only be an idea but this would be tremendous fun to watch
Basketball-wise, this summer will not go down simply as the usual time for international competitions – Eurobaskets, World Championships or Olympics. The reason why? In the U. the most common leisure practice for any baller or wannabe so – namely, those half-court three-on-three games that will be part of the Olympics schedule starting from 2020 – has been turned by a forward-looking rapper into a travelling season-long championship where former NBA players – whether retired or still active around the world – fiercely battle among themselves to claim the title amid heavy trash talking and playground-like antics. So far, such ambitious project has been a real success as the arenas hosting weekly game-days were regularly sold-out, filled by enthusiastic crowds willing to turn back the clock and watch their old heroes once again in spite of Father Time’s work. At the sight of this unlikely yet exciting competition, one can only wonder what a Euroleague-oriented version would look like. While it is crystal-clear that the conditions – across the pond, basketball is a driving force able to draw lots of attention from the media, thus generating proportionally huge profits – would not be the same for that to happen, the one and only aim of these lines is to lay down some basic guidelines and potential line-ups for our continental answer to Ice Cube’s league.
If Big 3 has introduced ad-hoc squads – whose names and crests might look quite hilarious at times – among which the available player pool was shared through a draft, a more captivating scenario for this hypothetical European scramble could consist in bringing back accomplished trios of the recent past so that fans would better identify themselves in their favourite sides and – who knows – old on-court rivalries could resurface as well. That said and keeping faith with the five-man-roster philosophy adopted in the eight-team American league, let’s have a look at some intriguing combinations dating back up to the past decade – basketball skills might not vanish with prolonged inactivity just as the ability to ride a bike, but age is still undefeated to this point. Spacing from the most accomplished dynasties to surprising underdogs as well as expensive disappointments, there is an embarrassing wealth of options to choose from. In order to ensure some competitive balance otherwise underestimated by our US counterparts, a limit of a single active player still balling outside of the Euroleague has been set for each squad in the upcoming list.
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Arguably the most unstoppable bunch of guys in the modern Euroleague era – not by chance winners of two straight championships before parting ways – endowed with impressive individual skill sets and genuine unselfishness at the same time. Throw in the mix a clutch 3-and-D specialist as well as a true athletic freak off the bench and, at least on paper, it looks like the biggest favourites to take it all have just been unveiled. A dozen years later, however, it could be a whole different story even for such a gifted group.
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The main core of coach Messina’s Russian powerhouse – winner of two Euroleagues and finalist of the remaining one throughout a three-year span following Maccabi’s reign – is a scary collection of potential prima donnas who meshed as well as possible to form an almost unbeatable Red Army. From first-class playmaking to sharpshooting specimens as well as elite low-post threats, there is more than enough to drive any opponent mad. Moreover, Andersen’s longevity on the hardwood – he is still balling in his native Australia – could be a big plus.
Just as in their archrival CSKA’s case, the amount of talent and depth in this roster has few rivals. From floor-spacing snipers to one of the very best two-man combinations, the sky is the limit for this Greens’ representative from the zenith of coach Obradovic’s tenure that matched their Russian predecessors with two Euroleague titles over a three-year span. Lack of elite rim protection could be a minor issue but average height would definitely help and, just in case, the side’s point guard could easily fill such void while running the show like few others.
Directly from the team that stuck their nose in the aforementioned Panathinaikos’ kingdom, this side apparently has what it takes to make a serious title run – lights-out shooters, first-class isolation players as well as length and athleticism. Opponents had better close out games as soon as possible since deep daggers out of nowhere might suddently overturn things any given time. In addition, stopping 39-year-old Mickeal could prove to be even more difficult than back in the day as the burly tweener is still alive and kicking in Argentina. In case all of this were not enough, these guys might as well patiently wait for Juan Carlos Navarro’s farewell to Euroleague – and, most likely, professional – basketball in order to likely claim the crown.
The Basque club always fell short in their three consecutive – and, aside from 2016, only – Euroleague Final Four appearances during an otherwise silverware-filled time within national boundaries. Boasting a world-class two-man axis between newly-appointed head coach Prigioni and fellow Albiceleste’s top scorer Scola – not willing to hang his boots yet just as long-time partner-in-crime Manu Ginobili – alongside a three-time Alphonso Ford Trophy winner, TAU Ceramica’s core could finally get over the hump in spite of Tiago Splitter’s eligibilty issues – his last season on the inactive list and current free-agent status does not make him a retired player – also thanks to some additional Croatian versatility and Turkish scoring punch off the pine.
Still at the beginning of their endless domestic run, Simone Pianigiani’s boys took continental aristocracy by storm after a one-year hiatus but suffered a tough meltdown in the semifinal game against an underdog Maccabi. With Romain Sato’s status still uncertain due to his possible stay in Euroleague-bound Valencia, green-and-white fans should not get discouraged anyway since their beloved American and Lithuanian imports from those glory days could surely make up for the African swingman’s absence. Moreover, the perimeter-oriented nature of the squad – do not forget Thornton’s underrated inside game, though – should only increase this side’s chances given the even better spacing enabled by the smaller number of players on court.
If back in summer 2007 few people could predict a quarterfinal run ended only by the above-mentioned Baskonia side in a deciding third game, even fewer probably expected that such feat would be repeated the following season and even improved two years later thanks to a Final-Four berth. However, only the first version of those Grobari teams could count on that time’s most imposing force in the paint before Panathinaikos took notice. A number of already experienced young players led by veteran guard Kecman provided a serious support to the now retired Pekovic – in the end victim of his own subhuman bulk. A decade later, though, those days that looked like a promising beginning instead of a finish line – injuries have cut Tripkovic’s career short as well and hampered Novica Velickovic’s one at the wrong time – are only a distant memory. What better chance for redemption with a 7-foot-6-inches octopus-like presence having your back?
Having endured a dismal round robin exit at a time where the now defunct Euroleague Top Sixteen welcomed more than half of the teams, the black-and-yellow Istanbul giants were still a long way from lifting the biggest continental trophy. Their roster, however, was filled with accomplished veterans in hopes of making a serious postseason push – a traditional Turkish belief that clashed with reality over and over again before last May’s epiphany. An all-time Euroleague rebounding leader, two merciless pure shooters and a lock-down defender able to deliver in the clutch are definitely a good foundation to build upon. Last, but not least, a true beast mixing the brute strength and awesome footwork of a boxer with silky hands is the icy on the cake for the tournament’s darkhorse.
Not bad for an opening season, right? The best thing, however, is that an awful lot of other equally good teams that somehow left their mark in such a restricted timescale could easily be fielded. Just take a trip down memory lane.
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