Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade finally broke through last year to win the ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT crown. Can the Serbian team become the first repeat champion since fellow Belgrade club FMP in 2009? Or can host Real Madrid grab its first title after losing to Crvena Zvezda in last season’s final? Will Zalgiris Kaunas pick up its third ANGT crown or does INSEP Paris have the goods to capture its second championship? Or will the fans in Madrid experience the ninth club to hoist the trophy to the heavens?
The answer is coming on May 17 just hours before the championship game of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four at Barclaycard Center, where the winners of Group A (INSEP, Real Madrid, Stellazzurra Basketball Academy Rome and VEF Riga) and Group B Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade, Spars Sarajevo, Unicaja Malaga and Zalgiris Kaunas) will face off in the ANGT title contest.
Crvena Zvezda is one of the main titles contenders in Madrid as the team brings back many of its leaders from last season’s championship-winning squad, including 2014 Finals MVP Vojislav Stojanovic. But Stojanovic is just one of the team’s leaders; he is joined by Nikola Rakicevic, Aleksandar Aranitovic and Borisa Simanic. And even though Crvena Zvezda is full of great players, those players are also unselfish and team-orientated, which makes them a tough team to stop on offense and score upon on defense. In the Belgrade qualifier, Crvena Zvezda averaged 88 points while allowing just 58.4 points per game in going undefeated.
Real Madrid knows a thing or two about not being able to score against Crvena Zvezda after losing the 2014 title game 55-42. Madrid has a few of its top players back from that team as well, including Santiago Yusta, Jonathan Barreiro, Samba Ndiaye and Emanuel Cate. On top of that, the Spanish team will have 16-year-old uber-talent Luka Doncic ready to showcase himself, while Felipe Dos Anjos can patrol the paint. Madrid, which was undefeated in winning the L’Hospitalet qualifying tourney, will not have history on its side as only two teams have won the ANGT crown on their home court - INSEP in Paris in 2010 and CSKA Moscow in Moscow in 2005.
Zalgiris Kaunas returns to the Finals for the 11th time in 13 years after winning the Kaunas event in undefeated fashion. The Lithuanians will be hunting for title number three after 2003 and 2007, which would pull the team even with CSKA Moscow for the most crowns. Zalgiris will have a strong team featuring qualifying tournament MVP Martynas Echodas, who was selected for the 2014 Finals All-Tournament Team, as well as Martynas Varnas, Laurynas Beliauskas and Laurynas Birutis. After winning or reaching the final in four of the first five ANGTs, Zalgiris has only played in one final since 2007; it lost in 2011 to Zagreb.
The other team to qualify directly for Madrid was Stellazzurra Basketball Academy Rome, which won the Torneo Citta di Roma qualifier to reach its first Finals. Stellazzurra also went undefeated and beat previously-undefeated Unicaja Malaga in the Rome final. While Stellazzurra does not score as potently as Crvena Zvezda, the Italian club does play tough defense as well, allowing just 50.7 points per game. The leader of the Rome club is the versatile Andrea La Torre, who was the MVP at the qualifier. Other leaders for Stellazzurra will be Todor Radonjic, Kristinn Palsson and youngster Njegos Sikiras.
The last of three past champions to compete in Madrid is INSEP, which foiled FMP’s three-peat attempt in the 2010 final in Paris. INSEP was awarded a wild card for Madrid after losing just one game at the Kaunas qualifier - in the deciding group game against Zalgiris - before finishing in third place. The French team has a tantalizing group of talent, including Kaunas All-Tournament Team member Bathiste Tchouaffe, power forward Stephane Gombauld and 2.12 center Jonathan Jeanne. The team will once again have the services of 17-year-old talent Killian Tillie – younger brother of Laboral Kutxa Vitoria forward Kim Tillie – who missed the qualifying tournament with an injury. If INSEP can win the title, the team would become the fourth to win two titles - after CSKA, Zalgiris and FMP.
Unicaja Malaga also received a wild card and will play at the Finals for the first time since 2009. The Spanish club lost in the final of the Rome qualifier against Stellazzurra - the team’s only defeat of the tournament. It was also the fourth time Unicaja lost in a qualifying final since 2009. Malaga point guard Carlos Corts was named to the All-Tournament Team, but the team also features Romaric Belemene, Viny Okouo and Rares Uta.
There are two teams making their ANGT debut: VEF Riga and Spars Sarajevo. VEF Riga was given a wild card after losing its only game in the Kaunas tournament against Zalgiris in the final. It was actually the second straight season in which VEF lost to Zalgiris in the final of the Kaunas qualifier. The Latvian club will have one of the most exciting players in the tournament in all-around talent Rodions Kurucs. But VEF is far from just Kurucs. Karlis Silins and Verners Kohs both provide the team with plenty of production and Zigmars Raimo can do so many things on the court.
Last but not least is Spars Sarajevo, which also received a wild card for its Finals debut after finishing third at the Rome qualifying tournament, losing just one game to Unicaja. The team’s star is Edin Atic, who was named to the Rome All-Tournament Team. But the Bosnian team has other weapons as well with the second big gun being Amar Gegic. Fahrudin Manjgafic and Atif Durak also must play well if Spars hopes to hoist the trophy to the Madrid heavens on May 17.