Madrid, with the track factor already in your pocket and without Yabusele, sick, or Llull or Williams-Goss, he visits Belgrade, the Partizan stadium, a Stark Arena which is one of the current temples of the Euroleague and which It can once again exceed 20,000 viewers for the third game in a row. “Tickets have been sold out for a month.Like against Olympiacos and Barça”, Josep María Izquierdo, a 55-year-old from Badalona, tells us that he is the assistant coach of Zeljko Obradovic. They met at Joventut (1993-94) and then they have been together since 2013, in the Serbian coach’s seven seasons at Fenerbahçe and in the two he has been in Belgrade.
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The Obradovic seal is a guarantee of successIt always has been, so it was to be expected that sooner or later Partizan would step up under the legendary coach, winner of nine European Cups with five different clubs. Last year was difficult. Red Star beat him in his League and Bursaspor in the round of 16 in the Eurocup. The beginning of this season was not a path of roses either. and on December 13 against Asvel they added their fifth European defeat in a row and fell to the third from last place (4-9). Since then, a record of 13-5, 72% wins, which is above the 71% accumulated by the two leaders, Madrid and Olympiacosin the whole course.
Partizan is the great sensation of the Euroleague, with three games ahead (Madrid this Friday and then departure to Monaco and closing at the Stark Arena against Panathinaikos) to get into the playoffs, a conquest that not many would have predicted in October. Obradovic’s first at home in 30 seasonssince he left Partizan itself in 1993 at the age of 33 after making him European champion in 1992. Of a revolutionary Obradovic if we compare it with previous stageswith a very offensive basketball, with a great rhythm and with two heterodox point guards: Dante Exum and Avramovic. A Partizan that averages 84.5 points (only behind Baskonia and Madrid), who forces many free kicks due to his pace, verticality and physical power, that he has recovered the medium-distance shot and that the actions of two prevail over triple (just 21 attempts from three on average, less than the other 17 teams). A Partizan with a very strong quintet: Exum, Punter, Nunnally, LeDay and Lessort. Four of them among the 20 most valued in the Euroleaguesomething similar to Madrid, which has Tavares, Musa and Deck in the top 15.
Left He tells us about his experience with Obradovic in one of the great cities of European basketball and compares it with the landing of both in Turkey in 2013: “I draw a parallel with Fenerbahçe, where we arrived at the club in July and it cost us the first year. In 2021 we signed for Partizán at the end of June, there were players with a contract and we did not have the room for maneuver that we wanted. Fenerbahçe, moreover, was a club with a 30 million budget and here we didn’t even reach a third. This year the squad is more adapted to what we want. We didn’t start very well, but the work and the players getting to know Zeljko’s mentality has paid off. We have 26 victories in the last 32 games, although this is a long time. Due to a defeat at the wrong time, what seemed like a very good campaign can turn into a disaster. Beyond that, We enjoyed the road, which is extraordinary. And of an abysmal game changer, not only collective, but individual”.
An Obradovic that has changed, with a revolutionary touch in the gamewe said: “We are a team with a lot of offensive talent that had to acquire its defensive rules and we needed to give importance to the effort at the back. When we have understood that and we have improved offensive decision making, everything has turned upside down. And regarding the style, the preparation of the template is important. If you sign Exum as a point guard, you can’t wait 24 seconds and gamble on an outside shot. Exum is open field, speed, counterattack, clearing, attacking one on one…”.
A project that started in 2021 with two strategic signings, Punter and LeDay: “The first two stones of the project, which was not born with a short-term view, but with the intention of creating something important. And they both understood it very well. The coaches, in fact, signed for three seasons. With Obradovic I have seen a change. He is calmer, even enjoying himself more. Because? Because He is in his city, with his family, with his friends, going to his restaurants, at home… and that gives him peace. It is true that he has extra pressure for being in his country, but he is the one who sets the demand, he always does it, always in the same way from the first second of the course to the last minute of the last game of the final playoff . Badalona, Madrid, Treviso, Athens and Istanbul, he had been away from home for 30 years. I think that coming back has benefited him”.
The Partizan is a good project, with Zoran Savic in the offices, and with exceptional support, that of the fans: “Although it is a multidisciplinary club, basketball is the one that prevails. We filled the Stark Arena with 20,000 spectators and what they push is impressive, they become one more player in the game. Belgrade is not a very big city, 1.6 million inhabitants. It’s not like Istanbul or Madrid. Here you meet in many places with many basketball people, with players who have been idols: Kikanovic, Rebraca, Danilovic, Bodiroga… You learn basketball and laugh at anecdotes from 30 or 40 years ago”.
A powerful Partizan and a neighbor, the Red Star, which is also: “There is rivalry in other cities, but here it is carried to the maximum passion. We all want to win and that forces you to give even more than you can to try. On the street, people are from Partizan or Red Star and some tell you: ‘We’re going to beat you.’ And there is no problem. The hot moment is the game and sometimes the hours before or after”.
Izquierdo bets that the two clubs continue next season in the Euroleague: “Yes I’d like to. The two of us fill the pavilion and the spectators watch it with enormous passion, whoever the rival is. Against Madrid there may be 20,000 fans, but against Asvel, for example, we had 17,000. In my opinion, and without wanting to set a chair, it is important to reward the clubs that support basketball. I would also like domestic competition (where incidents usually occur) to normalize, although I’m not the one to give lessons either.
Partizán has three games left in the regular phase, the first against Madrid, where Izquierdo worked as an assistant to Javier Imbroda together with Chus Mateo in the 2002-03 campaign. “I have seen Madrid at its best and at its worst, as with almost all teams, because it is impossible to always win for ten months, but not only because of our physical, technical, tactical condition, but also because there are many injuries. The calendar is inhumane for the players. Some can play more than 90 games in a campaign and even splice from one season to another, or with only 15 days of vacation. Now, Madrid is up and it will be. Will he be champion? I don’t know, hopefully we are”.
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