The Slovenia Times

Euroleague is Back



It is safe to say that Union Olimpija truly embodies the spirit of European basketball. Despite the obstacles of coming from a small market, Olimpija has mastered ways of making and keeping the club among the very biggest names around.

Unfortunately, for the past few seasons bad management, numerous coaching and player changes, and the fact that the club almost went bankrupt at one point because of excessive loans over the years, have kept Olimpija in turmoil. But even though the results suffered and were far from Union Olimpija's glory days in the late 90s, the club managed to keep its head above water and stay among Europe's elite.

Some changes were made in the midst of last season and Olimpija has gotten back on track. Management hired a new head coach, Aleksandar Džikič, who established better communication between players and improved team chemistry, players accepted their new roles and started working even harder and it seems that there were better days ahead. Considering two fronts, the Adriatic basketball league and the national championship, this forecast came true, but it was already too late for Džikič to also save the European front, where, even though they have beaten few of the elite teams, they did not succeed in advancing to Top 16.

Starting from scratch

Coming into a new season, the club has set clear goals for itself. In the upcoming season Olimpija's goals will be to win both domestic titles, the national championship and the National Cup, to place themselves into Adriatic league Final Four and advance to Top 16 in the Euroleague, something they failed to do in the previous season, while the club's long term goal is to become a Final Four candidate in the Euroleague.

"We have a vision that within three years Olimpija becomes a club where success will be the result of hard work and collective spirit," said Union Olimpija's President Dušan Mitič.

Vice-president Peter Vilfan added to this: "We have constructed a competitive team that is better than the last year's, and I believe that with attractive basketball we will again fill the stands of Hala Tivoli."

To put these words into action, Olimpija organised a three-day pre-season tournament with some of the best European teams: Panathinaikos from Greece, Macabee Tel Aviv from Israel and Fenerbahçe from Turkey. Despite loosing against strong Panathinaikos team on the second day, the Slovenian club showed that it really means business this year as the guys from Ljubljana redeemed themselves on the final day of the competition, beating the favoured Macabee in a very intense game and winning the tournament.

New acquisitions

Besides keeping the veteran leadership of Jasmin Hukić and team captain Marko Milič, the club also brought in some new faces. Most notable are the veteran Macedonian point guard Vlado Ilievski, who has already played for Olimpija, Serbian centre Vladimir Golubovič, who was the leading rebounder in last year's Adriatic league and a young Croatian prospect, Damjan Rudež, who already won the hearts of Olimpija's fans with some great plays in the pre-season tournament.

"My guys have to give a hundred percent in every game; then I will be pleased. The team has been selected and we will only trade two or three players in the upcoming season. Because of that, we will rather try to improve our younger players, and Milič, Ilievski and Hukić, who are the only ones with Euroleague experience, can offer a lot of support. We will definitely not be the same team as last year. After all, we have chosen a dominant point guard in Ilievski this year," explained head coach Džikič.

Vlado Ilievski, who was considered one of the best European point guards when he played for Olimpija between 2001 and 2003, and was somewhat forgotten after leaving the club, is happy to be back: "I am happy that I will play in Ljubljana again. I believe that there is a good season ahead of us. Olimpija always had the highest goals and this time is no different."

Great youth movement

It is no secret that Union Olimpija has one of the best youth movements in Europe. Many young players made a name for themselves while wearing the green and white jersey and playing against top European teams. Some of them went on to great basketball careers in some of the best clubs in the world, while others had their best years playing for Olimpija.

The last player to put himself on the map is Slovenian playmaker Goran Dragić, who was at club's helm last year. Some great games in Olimpija's jersey brought in scouts from all over the world and they were not disappointed. Dragić showed them his great court vision skills, the ability to lead his team, fearless fighting spirit and also what scouts desire the most, great potential.

Scouts from NBA's Phoenix Suns liked him so much that they convinced their management to select him with the 45th pick in this year's NBA draft and sign him to a four-year USD 10 million contract. Most likely he will be the team's second option at the point guard position, backing up one of the best players in the league, Steve Nash.

Currently Dragić is doing great in pre-season games, earning the nickname "Dragon". Hopefully, he will continue with great performances when the season starts and for many years to come.

Next in line might be the young Croatian forward, Damjan Rudež, who already showed some of what he can do at the pre-season tournament and instantly became a new fan favourite. Rudež definitely has all the attributes a player needs to become one of the best and with right coaching and a clear head he can surely become one and along the way help Union Olimpija re-establish itself as one of the best and most feared clubs in Europe.

Tune in to the season opening on 22nd October and watch Olimpija fight for top spots against Tau Ceramica, Fenerbahçe, Virtus Roma, Alba Berlin and DKV Joventut.


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