2015, the year in review and what’s in store for 2016

It’s certainly been a whirlwind year for basketball. Spain returned to the top of the mountain, at both club and international level, a new force emerged to breathe new life into women’s basketball and record crowds descended upon Lille. It has been another exciting 12 months.

But now, 2015 is now confined to the history books as we enter 2016 – and there is certainly a lot to look forward to.

The year in review …

Highs:

SPAIN RETURN TO THE TOP OF THE EUROPEAN CROP

With many people expecting France to repeat as Eurobasket champions, not many people actually anticipated Spain to come roaring back to glory, especially as they had to settle for bronze at Eurobasket 2013 and then were dumped out their home World Cup in the quarter-finals to Les Bleus.

But in-front of nearly 27,000 fans in Lille conquered France in the semi-finals with Chicago Bulls’ Pau Gasol contributing to half of Spain’s 80-point total. The Spanish then coasted to the gold by beating Lithuania.

A fantastic achievement for Spain, and for Sergio Scariolo, the mastermind coach behind the Eurobasket 2009 and 2011 triumphs, it was a winning return, having been out of the international scene since 2012, which turned out to be the very year when Spain declined.

REAL MADRID GIVE SPAIN CLUB HONOURS AS WELL 

But before the international season got into full swing, Real Madrid ended the domestic season with their first Euroleague title since 1995 by convincingly beating Olympiacos in a rematch of the championship game in London, two years previous.

The Piraeus side won on that day, but in-front of their home fans in the Spanish capital, Real Madrid were not going to let that happen again. They trailed 19-14 after the first period before taking the lead in the second quarter and racing clear in the final ten minutes to seal the Euroleague trophy.

Real Madrid won their first Euroleague trophy since 1995 on home court in May. Photo: Euroleague Basketball

For Real, it ended two years of being housed on the runners-up stage of the podium, as defeats to Olympiacos in London and Maccabi Tel Aviv in Milan dampened their pride.

But their spirit and belief continued to burn strong, and on their home court – they finally delivered.

RECORD CROWDS IN LILLE

The second and final rounds of Eurobasket 2015 were staged at the Stade Pierre Mouroy in Lille, where half was transformed from a football stadium to a breathtaking basketball arena that held roughly 29,000.

After two separate European indoor attendance records were set in the magnificent setting, in the end the championship game between Spain and Lithuania made it three times the charm by drawing in 27,372 spectators to give an unforgettable tournament its grand send off.

SERBIA WIN EUROBASKET WOMEN GOLD

Serbia’s women have not been as successful as the men’s team over the years but in 2015, that all changed.Serbia’s men, led by Milos Teodosic and Miroslav Raduljica fought their way to a surprise silver medal at the 2014 FIBA World Cup; and Serbia all of a sudden were discussed as the early favourite to win Eurobasket (before France revealed their roster), but as the men were getting the usual attention, the women were getting the job done at Eurobasket Women in June.

Ana Dabovic claimed MVP honours as the Serbs ousted France in the final to scoop their maiden European crown. And a place at the Rio Olympics.

Serbia: Queens of Europe. Photo: FIBA Europe.

“They were fantastic and our women captured the hearts of many Serbians when they won the women’s title,” Serbia men’s coach Alexsandar Djordevic said during Eurobasket.

“They played a great brand of basketball that has the whole team involved and playing for each other. There were no egos on that team, something that I see in my guys and I hope that we can qualify for the Olympics through the qualifiers and join them in Brazil, which would be fantastic for Serbia.”

A new dawn in the world of women’s international hoops?

Lows:

NBA LONDON: THE ONE-SIDED AFFAIR 

The annual NBA regular season game in London usually brings out a mass euphoria among the British public, including football players predominately from Chelsea and Arsenal, but the 2015 edition, featuring a Jabari Parker-less Milwaukee Bucks and the New York Knicks, whom at the time, just plain sucked was one that didn’t capture much to the imagination.

The game at the O2 Arena was sold out, but the tickets left the office before Parker tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and before the Knicks were effectively tanking the season, so when the game began on a cold January night, the 18,000-plus that were mainly rocking Carmelo Anthony vests were watching a complete borefest that was over after the first six minutes when Milwaukee raced rather easily to a 14-0 lead.

The game finally drew to a close with the Bucks winning 95-79, extending New York’s losing streak to 16 games, a run that prompted the New York Times to give their beat reporter Scott Cacciola a sabbatical from the team because the Knicks “appear to have officially given up on this season”.

Orlando and Toronto should give the NBA fans in London some excitement on January 14.

THE EUROCUP FINAL: WHY TWO LEGS???

The Eurocup is European basketball second tier competition with the winner getting an automatic place in the following season’s Euroleague. So it is, in its own right, a prestigious tournament with something to play for.

Unfortunately, this season’s Eurocup final between Khimki and Gran Canaria in Moscow was quite possibly the most pointless game of basketball in 2015.

Why, you ask? Well, that’s because the showpiece game was played over two legs with the first encounter in Las Palmas between the two finishing 91-66 in favour of Khimki, making the second leg in Russia’s capital city almost meaningless.

And when the hosts raced out to a 45-30 lead, extending their aggregate lead to 40 points, a showpiece final turned into a poor advertisement for a competition that seems like it gets overlooked in the planning stages with the format a complete mess.

And, if you thought this was a one-off, the same thing happened the season before between Valencia and Unics Kazan, as the Liga Endesa side comfortably won the first leg 80-67 before holding Unics to just four points in the first quarter of the second leg, scoring 16 points themselves to lead 96-71 over two legs.

Meaningless basketball then followed.

At least the format changes next season.

What have we got to look forward to in 2016…?

RIO OLYMPICS

It’s that time again, as the Olympics are drawing near. And being honest, it has flown by as it seems like yesterday that we were in London watching coach Mike Krzyzewski and Kobe Bryant’s farewell as the USA retained their Olympic gold at the O2 Arena (or the North Greenwich Arena as it was called for the Games).

But it seems that both Krzyzewski and Bryant will instead have their one last hoorah in Rio this summer.

For both Krzyzewski and Bryant though, this will be their last stand. After 20 years of dazzling crowds all over the world, the Los Angeles Lakers legend will retire at the end of the season. And with the Lakers looking likely to miss out on the post-season again, Bryant’s final playing moment could very well be him standing on top of the podium with a gold medal over his neck in Brazil.

And for the legendary Mike Krzyzewski, one of basketball’s most outstanding coaches, he will depart from the United States national side after the Rio Games as San Antonio Spurs playcaller Gregg Popovich takes over.

The nearest challengers to the USA again look like being Spain with France possibly being in the mix, should the latter advance from the additional qualifiers.

Unfortunately though, Rio 2016 looks like another race to silver, for both men and women as the rest of the hoops world struggle to catch up to the NBA All-Star cast of the USA.

OLYMPIC QUALIFIERS

To get in the mood for the Olympics in August, we have the small matter of deciding the remaining three men’s teams that qualify for the Rio Games, as well as five from the women.

Three countries will host the men’s Olympic qualifiers along with one from the women’s tournament with the chosen host being decided on January 19.

EUROLEAGUE FINAL FOUR HEADS TO BERLIN

Seven years ago, the Euroleague Final Four took place at the O2 World Arena in Berlin with Panathinaikos claiming the title in-front of 12,000 fans.

Since 2009, the Final Four has grown, it has become much more interactive and as it returns to the Mercedes Benz Arena (same arena, different name), and the Final Four experience is already shaping to be the most eagerly anticipated weekend of European basketball ever.