Inside the BCL bubble: Final eight thoughts of the season
ATHENS (Greece) - First of all, we don't officially call it a bubble. It's different. Let's keep it as "safe environment" with the hotel and the arena, but it's still somewhat similar to the other bubbles of worldwide basketball, the NBA one, the German one, the Spanish one.
But how does it really work? Well, here's the Help-Side Column for you, one more time, trying to help you understand our side in a column, so the name still sounds A-OK to me, coming to you straight out of Athens, Greece, on the eve of the 2020 title game. Yes, I've double-checked, the 2019-20 season is still going on, and will finally finish on Sunday. We'll get the new champions, the new champions will take that one million euro prize money injection, exactly the panacea for the poison in these troubled times.
Since we have a Final 8 here, it felt like the right thing to try and put eight random thoughts and call this the final eight thoughts piece, because it's (1) the final piece of Help-Side Column season, (2) it's got eight thoughts, (3) it's got Final 8 thoughts. I only wanted to expand on this because I came up with it and that's about the most creative I've been since circa early March. Rusty. But still working.
What's up, WhatsApp?
You know the Dave Chappelle meme? "Modern times require modern solutions?" The last time we were here at OAKA, we had more than 120 accredited media members for the 2018 Final Four. But with various Covid-19 measures, most of the closed indoor spaces were limited to nine (yes, 9) people per room, making it impossible to organize mixed zone interview and larger press conferences.
Modern times. We came up with a pretty basic plan how to give the media the access to the coaches and players by setting up a gigantic WhatsApp group, informing the media members about the availability of the players and coaches, sending back the audio and video files as soon as possible and generally focusing on that part of the work, to distribute as much content as we can.
This led to - and please don't tell my wife because she tells me I need to step away from the phone - me being glued to my phone 24/7, and asking the questions straight out of the group. With Dimi Kontos as our moderator, and a man who speaks so many languages he sometimes forgets which ones need to be translated to the other, so he translates from English to English, we managed to connect the media with the main actors here, and that's one of our biggest success.
You have a question in Greek? We did it in Greek. A question in Spanish? We did it. English? Si. French, Italian, Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, Herzegovinian, Montenegrin, Latvian... You name, we'll try and get it for you because that's why we're here. What good is an event if nobody can hear it, read it, see it...
37 is only a number
It could've been any random Tuesday or Wednesday somewhere around early 2010s in Zagreb, Croatia. I don't even remember who was playing against Cibona, but I remember sitting in my spot a few feet away from the court, ready to see this Keith Langford guy, who's apparently a killer out there, unstoppable when he's feeling hot.
Now, I've been watching basketball live, in arenas, for the last 25 years of my life. I've seen all the big events you could see in basketball, and I've seen so many world class players all over the world, which is why I love my job so much. But that day in Zagreb, that cold day on the Blue Telescope tribune of the Drazen Petrovic Basketball Center, that was the only time that a players crossover sent me tripping in the tribune.
It was Keith Langford. It was an ISO play on the right block (of course it was). He went left, like he was about to drive to the middle. And then - PUFF! Crossover to the right, step back, money. I'm telling you. I seriously caught myself faked out. You know like the camera on the replay sometimes doesn't know who to follow, so it zooms out a bit and then in again when it finds the man with the ball? That was me in the stands in Zagreb.
I've been a Keith-fan ever since, and stumbling upon this tweet over the summer just made me smile.
. @keith_langford is the No1 non-European (and 9th all time) scorer in the history of European Cups with 3.258 career points@Virtusbo - 221@Khimkibasket - 420@unicsbasket - 1.251@MaccabitlvBC - 217@OlimpiaMI1936 - 609@paobcgr - 267@aekbcgr - 273— Yannis Psarakis (@YPsar) July 31, 2020
Langford is the MVP of the season. He just turned 37, but man, when you're standing next to him, either for the pre-event Media Day, or the mixed zone interviews, or the press conferences, when you see him up close, he looks and radiates the energy of a 27-year-old. And he's in a perfect spot for this phase of his career, with Coach Ilias Papatheodorou balancing his minutes and lifting his usage rate during his stay on the floor.
That's the scary part of this AEK squad. They are, to be politically correct, "the most experienced team." But if their coach can manage their minutes all season long, the 35-year-olds will look as fresh as ever.
Seems that the all-Spanish affair in the Quarter-Finals blew the wind out of Casademont Zaragoza's sails. But the season has been outstanding wherever they showed up, and honestly, it feels like they put together a stronger team than the one in the first part of the 2019-20 season, and could be back with a shot to win the title in 2021.
That being said, they looked exhausted after the game against AEK in the Semi-Finals. Nothing says it more than this little exchange between Coach Diego Ocampo and Rodrigo San Miguel before the post game press conference started.
Just before the press conf started, Rodrigo San Miguel looks at the stats, turns to coach and whispers:— Igor Curkovic (@IgorCurkovic) October 2, 2020
"Matt Lojeski, seis minutos!?"
Coach Ocampo just shrugs.
Lojeski 11pts in 6min. But his 6min felt like an eternity for Zaragoza defense.#BasketballCL #Final8
Just imagine how helpless it feels to have a guy completely change the course of the game, and he played just six minutes. But it's a learning process for Zaragoza. They'll be back. Trust me on this one. Or don't, wait and see for yourself.
Matteo Marchi, Mikus Klavins, Panagiotis Moschandreou - take a bow
This is sort of connected to the first of the thoughts. Besides the need for the quotes and the interviews and the press conferences, we needed to up our game in the photo department because the media houses weren't able to send their people to Greece or to the OAKA. Because of the whole pandemic situation, of course.
And the players seem to be happy with the final photo product, too. I'll just give you the link, you take your time with these masterpieces by our Italian-Latvian-Greek trinity.
Rookies in basketball, veterans in behavior
We're not supposed to be biased because we're writers and in an ideal world, we're supposed to just give you the hard hitting facts, the scores and the scorers, and skip the personal preferences. Because that's what professionals in this job do. But I really love Hereda San Pablo Burgos, I really do.
It doesn't even have to do with their results on the court, which are also impressive. But the whole community, the fans, the people who are with the club here in Athens, just the vibe they give you... Burgos are really hard to hate. While everybody was talking about the changes from the last season, the new faces, is it the same team or not compared to March, Burgos weren't in that discussion because they had more important business to attend.
Like, this little gesture to thank the people who got them here. Team captain Vitor Benite also talked about it in his press conferences, Coach Joan Penarroya also named all of his guys who were with the team at the start of 2019-20, and are not here anymore, and this little gesture got the whole Europe retweeting because that's how it should be done.
El viaje hasta la #Final8 ha sido largo y hasta aquí nos acompañaron unos compañeros que, mañana no estarán en la pista, pero a los que debemos agradecer.— Hereda San Pablo Burgos (@SanPabloBurgos) September 29, 2020
JP, Earl, Bruno, Dragan, Gus, Oli, Ferran y Javi. Gracias por llevarnos también #MásLejosQuenunca pic.twitter.com/yOY3AB55qj
I love you Burgos I really do but don't tell anyone please because I'm trying to be professional here.
Kendrick Lamar, straight outta Dijon
Look here. You don't have to love hip-hop. You don't have to love music. But you have to imagine how good it feels for the players to go out in their team presentation while Kendrick Lamar's DNA is blasting from the speakers. We went a bit extra this time around, they are arriving from the tunnel, they have their little videos on the LEDs, they have basically the red carpet (BCL blue, but still) (and a sticker, not a carpet, but still) leading to the middle of the floor, and they can enjoy a different kind of intro to the game.
Especially when you hear "I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA" while your name is called. No better song than that one to describe what JDA Dijon are all about.
Axel Julien has been with the team since 2015. David Holston is in his second stint with JDA Dijon, totaling for four seasons so far. Same goes for Jacques Alingue. Abdoulaye Loum has three seasons down with the club. Alexandre Chassang two.
And don't even get me started about Coach Laurent Legname, who played for Hyeres-Toulon from 1995 to 2011 with the exception of the 2008-09 season in SOM Boulogne-sur-Mer, then coached Hyeres-Toulon from 2011 to 2015 in various parts of the club, and is now completing his fifth season with Dijon.
Loyalty all over the place. Putting JDA Dijon on the map, winning the French Leaders Cup this year, playing the Semi-Finals of the Basketball Champions League, showing what long term projects should look like.
Now they have to get to the second part of Kendrick Lamar's song. "And excellent mean the extra work." That's Kendrick's reference to Malcolm Gladwell's formula of 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. The clock is ticking, 2021 Final will be around the corner in no time.
A new ERA
I know, a horrible pun about ERA Nymburk. The last one, I promise.
ERA Nymburk tried their luck in the Adriatic League a decade ago, and got mixed reactions, because the teams from Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, BiH and Montenegro didn't know a whole lot about a young basketball club from Czech Republic. And as a permanent resident of the area, I can tell you that tradition in sport means so much to the people in that part of the world, so mixed reactions may be an understatement.
Fast forward to 2020, and ERA Nymburk are now a club with tradition of winning, not just in Czech Republic, but also in European competitions. In fact, they put together a 31-game winning run dating back to December 2019, which is simply outstanding, completely crazy, and a feat which will not be repeated in a long time.
They've got the Coach of the Season, they are a team whose 2-2-1 zone press and offensive rebound crashing has caught the eye of a number of coaches and fans around the continent, and their recruiting is getting easier with each passing year. They just point to their titles, their wins, their BCL track record, and of course youngsters want to be a part of that story. Good job. Perhaps unlucky to stumble upon AEK in the Quarter-Finals. Perhaps unlucky to be in Greece again, because their last defeat before the 31 wins was in Peristeri...
A month too soon
Finally, the final of Final 8 thoughts. The timing. I won't lie, I sent a message to a friend saying Turk Telekom will blow out JDA Dijon by 50 when I saw all the new faces in their roster. However, when I saw them in person, during the Media Day, it felt like a project still under construction. And by the time their game against JDA Dijon tipped off, I sent a message to the same said friend, saying "okay, I was wrong."
But Turk Telekom are an impressive project. The Final 8 came a bit too soon for them, because when you lose a quarter-final on a last second shot, it definitely is a sign that you could've made it over the hurdle if you just had one more practice together or one more dramatic ending to a game together or one more timeout together. They were the youngest team around, Michael Eric is their only player older than 30, so expect them to gel together sooner rather than later and challenge for the 2021 title.
Same goes for Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem. Okay, maybe even two months too soon for them, because J'Covan Brown suffered an injury and will be sidelined for two months. Without James Feldeine, without J'Covan, without Emanuel Terry, without Shelvin Mack, it just felt uncomfortable for Jerusalem to start their season with a game against a well-oiled machine like Hereda San Pablo Burgos.
TaShawn Thomas did have a good point, though. He said that they used the 2019 Quarter-Finals exit as motivation for 2020 - a season in which they set the new record for offensive rating in the League - and now they will use the 2020 Quarter-Finals exit as motivation for 2021. Hopefully, their domestic league situation will clear up soon enough to allow them another strong international push, but hey, that's not all that connected to basketball.
There you have it. Congrats on making it this far in this column. Don't worry, it'll be back in no time, in 2020-21. Or worry. That too is up to you.
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