By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Since the turn of the century, CSKA Moscow is a de facto contender or even the main favorite both in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and of course in the VTB United League. The “Army Team” has a long tradition of dominance, especially in domestic competitions. So, this season’s end was once again familiar.
CSKA Moscow won the EuroLeague and swept Khimki Moscow Region in the VTB United League finals. And while you can’t deny CSKA Moscow’s quality on the court, it was the grit of this team that made things happen.
Since the start of the season, there was a sense of an inevitable closing of a circle. Eight contracts, including Sergio Rodriguez’s option, were expiring this summer and also coach Dimitris Itoudis fate was unclear. His contract was ending too.
All the signs pointed to a drastic change of scenery in the summer of 2019. And everyone was feeling it, inside and outside of the team. Even on the court, there were doubts. CSKA is expected to win every game, even in the EuroLeague. Finishing third in the regular season with a 22-8 record and also getting beaten four times in the VTB, even if they finished the regular season on the top of the standings, amplified this sense of finality.
Was the end of this version of CSKA coming faster than expected? With the team underachieving?
And then something clicked. Somewhere around the EuroLeague playoffs, things turned around and it was like watching the basketball equivalent of Sam Peckinpah’s “Wild Bunch”. Everyone was embracing the doubts that surrounded the team in order to accomplish one last big score.
Coach Itoudis made it clear on the 18th of April. His team had just lost Game 2 against KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, the hosts of the upcoming Final Four. With two road games coming, the impending disaster of CSKA missing the Final Four for the first time since 2011 and only for the second time in the last 17 years was visible on the horizon.
“We believe in us, especially when no one else does. Let’s have some haters, no problem“.
Itoudis’ press conference echoed the sentiments of his team. At this point, it was CSKA Moscow against the world and his players didn’t have any problem with that.
CSKA finished the season by firing all cylinders and taking no prisoners. It was a veteran unite with the right know-how, the right motivation and the right mentality on the right moment.
The icing on the cake was the VTB United League title. But there’s no fairy tale ending in the “Wild Bunch”.
CSKA kept coach Itoudis and Will Clyburn, despite the NBA interest for the Final Four MVP. Still, things are going to chance.
Cory Higgins already admitted that he is leaving and FC Barcelona Lassa is going to be his destination. Nando De Colo, Kyle Hines, Sergio Rodriguez, Othello Hunter, and Alec Peters’ future is still unknown. It will not be a surprise if only just one or two of those names remain in Moscow.
Next season’s CSKA will be different. Maybe not as much as it was initially expected, but this summer will undoubtedly be the end of an era, especially if De Colo and Rodriguez also leave.
And that makes this season even more precious. It’s not that CSKA was not considered a contender, but it was the first time in recent years that the “Army Team” embraced an underdog mentality and the end result was memorable.