EUROLEAGUE TIPS OFF WITH SKY DEAL

The Euroleague has signed a deal with Sky Sports to screen regular weekly games.

The first one, on Wednesday 12 October on freebie channel Sky Sports Mix, is Real Madrid v Olympiacos.

It ends the Euroleague’s previous deal with BT Sport and coincides with the re-launch of Europe’s top competition as a 16-team single league followed by end of season playoffs following a revamp and an external investment from sports marketing giant IMG.

The very first round of t features three games between former continental champions and a clash of the reigning EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup title-holders. It all starts with one game on Wednesday, continues with three more on Thursday, and wraps up with a four-game Friday. The new era opens when Real Madrid welcomes Olympiacos Piraeus in a Game of the Week rematch of the original EuroLeague opener back on October 16, 2000. The two teams also faced off in EuroLeague championship games in 2013, when Olympiacos won, and in 2015, when Madrid prevailed. They also played an intense, five-game classic playoff series in 2014. The two teams also split home wins last season. Multiple stars anchor each roster: Sergio Llull, Rudy Fernandez or All-EuroLeague centre Anthony Randolph for the hosts from Madrid; former MVP Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis and Kostas Papanikolaou – owners of seven EuroLeague titles between them – for Olympiacos. It’s a must-see game by any measure.

In another highlight of opening week, the two European champions square off at the start of the campaign as defending EuroLeague champ CSKA Moscow and the reigning EuroLeague MVP Nando De Colo travel to face Eurocup kings Galatasaray Odeabank Istanbul on Thursday. The EuroLeague champs face multiple frontcourt injuries with Best Defender Trophy winner Kyle Hines, Joel Freeland and Pavel Korobkov not expected to play. Galatasaray and its army of die-hard fans will get behind leaders like Sinan Guler, Vladimir Micov and Blake Schilb, who helped the team earn its place in the EuroLeague by winning the Eurocup trophy last season.

Also on Thursday, EA7 Emporio Armani Milan hosts Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv in Mediolanum Forum, a place of happy memories for the visitors. Maccabi lifted the EuroLeague crown on last Mediolanum visit in 2014. Both teams were disappointed to not advance past the regular season last year, but each has reloaded its roster with talent. One of those 2014 champs, Ricky Hickman, is now one of Milan’s new floor leaders, alongside Mantas Kalnietis. Maccabi will look to big man Maik Zirbes while hoping that one of its new scorers, Sonny Weems or Andrew Goudelock, returns from injury in time.

Serbian champ Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade plays host to Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul on Thursday. Zvezda has one of two youngest rosters in the competition, but is a team that feeds well off the emotions and energy of its faithful fans who will pack Aleksandar Nikolic Arena. When these two teams played twice last season, Darussafaka won both games, including a comfortable 61-80 road triumph that showed this experienced visitor, now with former EuroLeague champ David Blatt on the bench, is more than capable of handling the crowd in the Serbian capital.

On Friday, Unics Kazan welcomes FC Barcelona Lassa for the first time in four years. Barcelona is 5-0 all-time against Unics, record which includes a EuroLeague playoff sweep in 2011-12 campaign. This game marks return of Unics and former Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy winner Keith Langford to EuroLeague after one season away. It will also mark first game Barcelona will play with former Final Four MVP Tyrese Rice and without Xavi Pascual as a head or assistant coach on its bench since 2005.

Fenerbahce Istanbul hosts Brose Bamberg in a clash of two teams that played each other once before, during the 2007-08 campaign, when they split regular season home wins. A lot has changed for the better for both teams since then. Bamberg has kept most of the team that achieved the best EuroLeague result in club history last season, reaching the Top 16 and contending for a playoff berth until the very last week. Fenerbahce is five months removed from being 1.9 seconds away from lifting the EuroLeague trophy, and with back-to-back Final Four appearances behind them, club does not hide its goal of finally getting to the top step on the podium.

In another clash of former continental champions, Panathinaikos Athens hosts Zalgiris Kaunas in the Greek capital. The six-time EuroLeague champion enters a season for first time after 12 years without the legendary Dimitris Diamantidis. But Panathinaikos has reloaded this summer, bringing in All-EuroLeague center Ioannis Bourousis among others, and hopes for a winning start of the season against one of the two youngest teams in the competition. Panathinaikos holds 18-2 edge in all-time head-to-head matches, and Zalgiris has never won on the road against Panathinaikos. But this time, another former Panathinaikos legend, Sarunas Jasikevicius, will coach Zalgiris at Olympic Sports Center Athens for the first time.

The opening week of the new EuroLeague wraps up on Friday night with Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz welcoming Anadolu Efes Istanbul and head coach Velimir Perasovic, the same guy who led Baskonia all the way to the Final Four last season – as well as in 2006. Baskonia did a fantastic job at home last season, going 13-1, and hopes to start in the same way this season, too. The first team coming to the Fernando Buesa Arena is Efes, which got its engines running too late last season, winning four of the last five games, but missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker. The visitors will be looking for a statement start away from home, too.

This season’s Final Four will be held in Istanbul.

 

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