By Johnny Askounis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Placing higher among the winningest head coaches of the Basketball Champions League is a secondary goal shared by Nenad Markovic and Ilias Papatheodorou. The primary goal is topping Group B of the Regular Season.
Chasing the 40th win in the league, the Bosnian tactician beat his counterpart to the punch on Wednesday. Besides being admitted to the elite club, the comfortable home win against Opava set up a clear path to the Round of 16.
Markovic, 55, took over La Jeanne in 2021. Building on the wins secured via previous stints as the head coach of Pinar Karsiyaka in the inaugural season back in 2016-17, Iberostar Tenerife early in the 2017-18 season, Gaziantep later in the 2017-18 campaign, and in the 2019-20 edition of the BCL, 19 wins over 33 games with Dijon upped his total to 40.
Two-time champion Txus Vidorreta with 83 positive outcomes in Champions League affairs is far from the remaining winningest play-callers. Filou Oostende’s longtime boss Dario Gjergja recently entered the list of head coaches with at least 40 wins, following the Bilbao native and former MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg head coach John Patrick.
In a bizarre twist, when Markovic got the nod at Tenerife in 2017, he replaced departing Vidorreta. However, it was a brief stint with Fotis Katsikaris taking over the Canary Islands outfit in December. Markovic launched a four-year run at Gaziantep and Vidorreta returned to Tenerife in 2018.
Ilias Papatheodorou is up next
Here is how it gets more interesting with permission to enter clashing with a confrontation. The team coached by Markovic is set to visit Promitheas at Patras on Gameday 5 on December 12. The Greek side, guided by Papatheodorou needs to win to retain any hopes to directly progress to the Round of 16, rather than settling in a Play-In challenge. Besides Round of 16 implications, Papatheodorou would also follow him emerging as the fifth head coach with 40 wins.
Papatheodorou, 48, is on track to become the second fastest to hit the milestone. The game against Dijon will be his 68th showing in FIBA Europe’s top-tier club continental competition. Of course, Vidorreta needed only 52 games with Iberostar/Lenovo Tenerife.
Carrying the vast majority of his wins from stints with fellow Greek clubs, PAOK from 2017 to 2019 and AEK from 2019 to 2021, Papatheodorou was named head coach of Promitheas last May.
Completing the double-legged round-robin schedule, Dijon will face both Promitheas and Rytas in Patras and Vilnius, respectively. One win is enough for Markovic and his players to clinch a berth in the Round of 16. Alternative paths require Opava to finally reach the win column and upset Promitheas or Rytas.
“We have four wins, but the two hardest games to play are in front of us,” explained the Dijon boss, “In these games, we will see if we are a team that will go to the Round of 16 as the first in the group or if we will be second and play Play-In or we will be third and play Play-In without homecourt advantage.”
“I believe it is a very tough group. And I expect it to remain tough until the end,” said Papatheodorou after the loss to Rytas on Wednesday, “The group is open and we have to fight until the end.”
From his perspective, Promitheas can top the group with a win versus Dijon by a margin of nine points or more if Rytas falls to Opava and beats Dijon, or a favorable three-way tiebreaker if Dijon loses both remaining games and the Czechia champions end up with a 0-6 record.
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League