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Olimpia is on the road again in Istanbul, Coach Messina: “We want to keep competing despite the absences”


The Istanbul game forces Olimpia to add a week with two EuroLeague rounds (on Friday Milan will play at home against Bayern Munich) to its schedule. The game is part of the Round 24 schedule that was suspended due to the earthquake that hit Turkey. Olimpia won six consecutive games before succumbing to Real Madrid in the last minute. Fenerbahce is firmly in the playoff zone, even if they lost in Valencia in the previous round and must defend their position among the best four from the onslaught that is coming not only from Monaco but now also from Partizan. The first game between these two teams came at the most difficult time for Olimpia and perhaps the best one for Fenerbahce, which meanwhile has recovered Nemanja Bjelica, a former NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors and former EuroLeague MVP. Olimpia is amid a crazy tour de force of games. Back from Istanbul it will have two days off before returning to the court against Bayern, but then there will be four consecutive games to be played every other day. A terrible schedule over a month of March with 12 games practically all of the highest level of difficulty. Seven are in the past, five more are coming. Olimpia has won in Istanbul against Fenerbahce in both of the last two seasons, but strangely it has never beaten them in Milan over the same span. Now, it will try to prolong this weird streak. To do so, Olimpia will have to overcome another injury bug that hit after Devon Hall (right knee), Gigi Datome (left ankle), Paul Biligha (right knee) also Shavon Shields (day to day, left ankle) and Kevin Pangos (abdominal strain, two weeks off minimum).

REFEREES – Daniel Hierrezuelo (Spain), Olegs Latisevs (Latvia), Rain Peerandi (Estonia).

COACH ETTORE MESSINA – “We face one of the best teams in the competition, built around two experienced guards like Calathes and Wilbekin, with a lot of individual talent and firepower at every position, with physicality and depth among the bigs. Because of absences, again very affecting, we lost some of the rhythms that allowed us to win six straight games. However, in Istanbul, we want to play the best possible game, keep competing as we have always done, and try to improve regardless who is going to be out there.”

FENERBAHCE – The team has been built around two very experienced and battle-tested guards, Nick Calathes and Scottie Wilbekin. The former, a two-time All-EuroLeague first-team, a three-time assist leader, is averaging 8.5 points, 5.0 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 37.6 percent from three. Wilbekin is averaging 11.5 points and 2.6 assists per game, and he is shooting 37.3 percent on threes. Nigel Hayes-Davis (9.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, 60.2 percent from two) is starting at the forward spot next to center Johnathan Motley, a little surprisingly the team best scorer with 14.5 points per game, thanks to his 62.7 percent shooting from the field. He also grabs 5.8 rebounds per game, 2.8 of them under the offensive board. The fifth starter should be the Canadian forward Dyshwan Pierre (6.3 points, 47.9 percent from three, 3.4 rebounds per game). However, he is injured, so the call should go to Devin Booker (6.0 points and 3.4 rebounds per game), Kostas Antetokounmpo, who has however lost minutes after Tonye Jekiri’s return from an injury. Jekiri is averaging 4.8 points per game while grabbing 3.2 rebounds and shooting 67.2 percent on twos. Among the perimeter players coming off bench the most remarkable one is Marko Guduric who averages 12.5 points and 3.1 assists per game on 61.6 percent from two and 39.5 percent from three. The small American Carsen Edwards (7.7 points per game) and the experienced Turkish international Meli Mahmutoglu (6.3 points per game, 42.9 percent three-point shooting) are helping too. Nemanja Bjelica is back after a long-term injury that forced him to appear in just four games so far. The explosive Sahmes Hazer (3.3 points per game, 68.2 percent on two) and the shooter Metecan Birsen may have some playing time. Tyler Dorsey, recently signed, is not eligible for this game.

HISTORY VS. FENERBAHCE – There have been 23 games between these two teams and Fenerbahce is leading the all-time series 15-8. The two teams met in 1996/97, the first round of the EuroLeague with a double win for Olimpia. In 2011/12 they met again in the Top 16, and Fenerbahce won in Istanbul 65-63 but lost in Milan 85-72 (27 points scored by Malik Hairston). In 2013/14, Olimpia won 90-85 in Milan (17 by Daniel Hackett) and then won again in Istanbul 82-73 with 16 points from David Moss and 13 from Alessandro Gentile. Fenerbahce then won ten consecutive games between the two teams, four during the 2014/15 season only, before losing the first game of the 2019/20 season in Milan 87-74. In that game there were 22 points scored by Sergio Rodriguez. In 2020/21, Olimpia won again in Istanbul 79-71 with 15 points by Zach LeDay and 13 by Kevin Punter, but Fenerbahçe took its revenge in Milan, winning 100-92 with 20 points from Nando De Colo, while Gigi Datome had 16 for Olimpia. During last season’s Olimpia dominated in Istanbul and won 68-43 with 13 points by Shavon Shields, 11 and 7 assists from Sergio Rodriguez, six steals, a career record, from Nicolò Melli. In Milan, Fenerbahce won one more time. Then, earlier in the season, Fenerbahce won for the third straight time in Mediolanum Forum, 82-72 (Nigel Hayes-Davies had 22 points) despite the 18 points scored by Naz Mitrou-Long and 16 by Devon Hall. Essentially, over the last five encounters, the visiting team has won five consecutive games.

THE FENERBAHCE CONNECTION – Gigi Datome played at Fenerbahce for five seasons that included four appearances in the EuroLeague Final Four and the European title won in 2017. Datome played 149 EuroLeague games in the yellow and blue, scoring 1,538 points. He has also won the Turkish title three times and the Turkish Cup three times. In 2016 he was MVP of the Turkish championship series. Nicolò Melli played two years at Fenerbahce between 2017 and 2019 playing 72 games including the EuroLeague championship game in 2018 and the Final Four of 2019. Melli scored 583 points for Fenerbahce in the EuroLeague with 325 rebounds grabbed. He also won a Turkish title and a Turkish Cup. Kyle Hines and Johannes Voigtmann played at CSKA Moscow for Dimitris Itoudis, who is now coaching Fenerbahce. With him, Hines has won the EuroLeague twice, the last one in 2019. Brandon Davies played for Barcelona alongside Nick Calathes and Nigel Hayes; Deshaun Thomas played at Panathinaikos with Calathes himself.

NICOLO’ MELLI NOTES – After becoming Olimpia Milan’s all-time leading rebounder in the EuroLeague, Nicolò Melli surpassed the 2.000-point scored barrier. He is the 20th player ever to have at least 2.000 points and 1.000 total rebounds. He has also grabbed his 1.000th defensive rebound. He is the sixth player ever to reach the feat. He has 1.000. Ante Tomic is in fifth place with 1.025.

KYLE HINES NOTES – Kyle Hines is 21 defensive rebounds shy of 1.000 for his career. His streak of 104 consecutive games player for Olimpia is still active. He is the fourth-ever in Olimpia per EuroLeague appearances behind Kaleb Tarczewski, Nicolò Melli and Vlado Micov.

BILLY BARON NOTES – Olimpia is 10-4 when Billy Baron has scored in double digit. In the other two wins, he had nine points (in Munich) and eight (vs Panathinaikos). In Olimpia wins, Baron is averaging 15.0 points per game and is shooting 50.0 percent from three and 66.7% on twos.