By Antonis Stroggylakis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been almost a month since the second edition of the Basketball Champions League Final Four (4-6 May) that took place in Athens, Greece and the Final between AEK Athens and AS Monaco.
Boosted by an outstanding and quite loud support of nearly 18,000 fans and with some effective offense leading the way on the court, AEK won the title and left Monaco, the team with the best record in the season (17-2 prior to the Final), to the silver medal.
Despite the defeat in the Final, the overall run of Monaco during the 2017-2018 BCL campaign and the second place the team won in Athens constituted a step forward for the “Roca Team”, according to the club’s Executive Director Oleksiy Yefimov.
“If before the season someone would tell us that we will advance into the Final Four second time in a row, I would doubt it,” Yefimov told Eurohoops. “But in the regular season, we showed some very solid basketball and the ticket to Athens was well-deserved.”
Monaco has taken some huge strides towards a return to the French basketball elite, during the last couple of seasons. Starting from 2012 and over a span of four years, they managed to climb from the French Fourth Division to Pro A and succeeded in winning the Leaders Cup during their first appearance in the top-tier domestic league since 1991.
“If you will take a look at the developing of the Roca Team project – it’s like a fairy tale,” Yefimov said to Eurohoops. “For us, it’s only the third season in the French First Division (Pro A). We have finished the Regular Season in the first place three times and won three Leaders Cup titles.”
“It’s also our second year playing in an international competition and the second consecutive time we made it to the Final Four,” Yefimov added.
The Monegasque team made it all the way until the end of the road in the Basketball Champions League but fell short in the Final Four title game, betrayed by the lack of what was their most potent weapon during the season: Defense.
After forcing their opponents to merely 68.4 points per game in the pre-Final Four campaign, Monaco saw AEK dropping what was proven to be a lethal number of 100 points in the Final.
“We came back from Greece with mixed feelings: Proud that we have made one more step in comparison to the last season (silver in Athens after bronze on Tenerife) but at the same time sad because all season long we were the best defensive team in BCL and in the final game we didn’t show it, letting opponent to score 100 points.”
“Anyway, it was unique and outstanding experience while playing in front of 20 000 Greek fans.”
Monaco remained one of the top teams of the Basketball Champions League and French League this season despite undergoing a major renovation last summer. In fact, there were no less than 10 new players in the Final Four roster, compared to the 2016-2017 squad.
As Yefimov describes, the recruiting process over the summer had two focal points: Players eager to… “put their bodies into the fire” on the defensive end, plus characters that allow the creation of some fine chemistry on and off the court.
“I didn’t mention that we never had the biggest budget comparing to other Jeep Elite clubs; of course, our financial abilities are not the best towards some BCL teams as well. That’s why after each successful season we couldn’t keep most of our key players as their market value has been increased a lot,” Yefimov told Eurohoops.
I think that the most important is that every season we have found players who have given a great defensive effort. All our guys have been dedicated to the job they do. I believe that we have developed our game and confidence through the defense.”
The same important is our chemistry in the locker room. While building up the team we always pay attention to characters and personalities.”
This period Monaco is playing in the French League playoffs and is already leading 1-0 in the semifinal series against Limoges. The goal of winning the championship title is almost… sacred for the players who want to complete the season in the best possible manner following the disappointing finale in the Basketball Champions League.
As for the club’s ambitions? As Oleksiy Yefimov explains, these include developing a team that will be strong enough to compete even at the highest level of European basketball.
“Our goal is to create a club that is as good as possible in order to be interested in all international competitions of all levels, including Euroleague. Don’t forget Monaco is probably the only one place where miracles still happening…”
Photo: Basketball Champions League