Serbian Basketball SuperLeague 2017/18 – can anyone challenge Crvena Zvezda?
“Welcome to the land of basketball”. That was a moto of 2005 Eurobasket, which host was Serbia (and Montenegro). If you look at the number of trophies and medals that Serbian basketball team won in its history, compared to population of this small European country, it’s easy to conclude why Serbia is truly a land of basketball. Basketball is taken very seriously in Serbia. It’s probably the only sport in this country that has its own, unique audience.
However, this “land of basketball” has a lot of problems. Finances are on the top of the list. Serbain clubs don’t have budgets to compete with Europe’s best teams, so their ability to keep their best players is extremely limited. Luckily, Serbia has huge base of young, talented players, that can make difference.
Favorites for title of Serbia’s basketball champion.
Let’s go through formalities first.
Serbian Basketball League consists from two stages – Serbian First League and Serbian SuperLeague.
Serbian First League gathers 14 teams. Competition has 26 fixtures, with each team playing against others both home and away games. Depending on the number of Serbian teams in ABA (Adriatic) League, first 3-5 teams at the end of 26-fixture process advance to SuperLeague, while last 1-3 teams are relegated to a lower (Serbian B) league.
Parallel with the First League, three to five Serbian clubs (usually four) compete in ABA League, along with other Balkan clubs. At the end of regular season in ABA, Serbian clubs, along with promoted teams from the First League, participate in Serbian SuperLeague.
SuperLeague gathers 8 teams, usually four from both ABA and First League. Teams are divided in two groups of four, playing against each other home and away game. After six fixtures, two of the best teams from each group advance to semifinal best-of-three series. Depending on projected number of spots for Serbian teams in upcoming ABA League campaign, there could be battle for third place. Usually all of semifinalists participate in ABA League next season. Finally, winner of SuperLeague is decided in best-of-five clash.
Before we even start to analyze which team has the best chances for winning next campaign, we need to know important fact: ever since Serbia and Montenegro grew apart in 2006, Serbian basketball league had only two different champions – Partizan (8 titles) and Crvena Zvezda (last 2 titles). In fact, ever since 1991-12 season, only three times one of these two clubs wasn’t the winner of domestic league, with Buducnost (Podgorica, Montenegro) claiming threeo consecutive titles from (1998/99 to 2000/01 season). So if history has thought us anything, it’s that winner of Serbian league will be Partizan or Crvena Zvezda.
CRVENA ZVEZDA – Growing every year
Without any doubt, Crvena Zvezda today is the most recognizable name from this part of Europe in basketball world. After overcoming financial struggling heading to 2011/12 season this team constantly elevates its performances with each past year. Right now, Crvena Zvezda is on sixth place in Euroleague, with great chances of repeating last season’s success – making it to quarterfinals of the most prestigious competition in Europe.
In domestic competitions, Zvezda is dominating in last couple of years. They are two-time defending champions in both ABA and Serbian league, and considering their results this season, it would be a miracle if they don’t be absolute favorites in 2017/18 season as well.
Although at the end of each season Zvezda loses their main players, there is enough talent in Serbia which, along with great scouting and ability to bring quality American players for a little money, compensates departures. Two seasons ago, Zvezda left without Euroleague’s most dominant center Boban Marjanovic, along with Marcus Williams and Nikola Kalinic. But their departures were followed by arrivals of Maik Zirbes, Quincy Miller and Tarrence Kinsey. Along with explosion of Stefan Jovic and Nikola Guduric, it was enough for Zvezda to dominate ABA and Serbian League again, as well to make their way to best eight teams in Euroleague.
So although Zvezda will probably lose some of its key players at the end of this season, history tells us that they will probably come back stronger than a year before, amking them absolute favorites to repeat previous successes.
PARTIZAN – Looking to bring back dominance
Before emergence of Zvezda, Partizan was a pure force in Serbian basketball. Prior to 2014-15 season, Partizan was champion of Serbian League for 13 consecutive years, along with 6 ABA league titles. The pinnacle of their success was participation in Euroleague’s Final Four in 2009-10, losing in semifinals against Olympiakos after overtime.
Similan story as Zvezda’s, Partizan was forced to give up on their best players at the end of each season, but always found way to be competitive. In past several years however, they are not so successful in this regard. Last star player that was part of Partizan team was Bogdan Bogdanovic. After his departure to Fenerbahce at the end of 2013-14 season, Partizan was unable to gather quality, young Serbian players, and with Partizna not participating in Euroleague any more, there were no good foreign players interested in signing with them.
Right now, Partizan is also facing huge financial problems, and although they are still among best teams in ABA League and Serbia, it would be very difficult to imagine that this club can compete against stable, regular-Euroleague club like Zvezda is now.
MEGA LEKS – fabric of future stars
Anyone who has some familiarity in Europe’s basketball world, heard about Misko Raznatovic. He is Europe’s most influential and successful basketball agent, with likes of Vasilis Spanoulis, Dario Saric, Nikola Jokic and others as his players.
Misko Raznatovic founded Mega Leks with one clear goal – develop young talents. Ant hi’s doing it pretty damn good. Nikola Jokic is the last example of this – he left Mega Leks for Denver Nuggets, and he is now one of the NBA’s most exciting talents.
Result for Mega Leks is in second plan. But that doesn’t mean they are not capable for great results. Last season was historical for them, as Mega became Serbian Cup winner, beatin both Crvena Zvezda and Partizan on their way to the throne, and finalist of ABA League, where they lost on Zvezda.
The ability of this club to attract young, potential NBA talents is what gives them huge advantage. Next season will not be any different in that regard, so we can expect for Mega to gather new young foces after this season end and their core players Rade Zagorac, Alpha Kaba, Ognjen Jaramaz make their way into the big basketball world. However, due to their youth and lack of experience, it’s hard to imagine for Mega to beat Zvezda in 5-game series.
FMP – the lost jewel of Serbian basketball
Vladimir Radmanovic, Milos Teodosic, Miroslav Raduljica, Zoran Erceg… those are just small part of players that are products of FMP’s school of basketball. This club was Mega Leks before Mega Leks existed. They are also two-time ABA League champions.
Similar as Partizan, FMP is unable to make talented squad in recent years, and considering competition in Mega in producing talents, it will not be easy job in future also. Next season will not be much different in that regard.
All in all, nothing will really change in Serbian Basketball League next season. Zvezda is main favorite, with Mega and Partizan lurking in the background.