Happy New Year Of Basketball!

Not much jumps out upon comparing the VTB United League's standings to the league standings in late December 2014. In fact, a close-up examination of the biggest changes reveals little of permanence.

Of course, an uninformed observer might suspect something fishy; an attempt to pass off Russia's soccer standings for the VTB United League. CSKA's place atop both tables should not come as a shock to anyone. But since when did Zenit rank 2nd among the arm-waving basketball brethren, and not with the ball-kicking wizards (where the club is currently 6th)? It wasn't that long ago that Zenit didn't even boast a basketball team.

I must pre-emptively silence those begging me to keep my mouth shut. "Absit omen!" - they shout, rushing to the pharmacy for a dose of anti-anxiety pills. Stay calm, my friends. There's no reason for alarm or panic. In reality, St. Petersburg (not the football club) has enjoyed a remarkably easy schedule over the first three months of the season: only 9 games (when everyone else has played between 12-14) against weaker competition.


Of the league's toughest competition, Zenit has only played CSKA and did not look ready for the big stage in that game (CSKA won by 36). St. Petersburg's diet of cupcakes ends soon: daunting visits to Krasnodar and Kazan are scheduled for early January. Some of Europe's best teams have lost there in 2015 and I'll be very surprised if Zenit's basketball and soccer clubs don't see a role reversal by spring (though I can't speak for the men on the pitch). One of the VTB League's traditional powers--Khimki, UNICS, Lokomotiv-Kuban--is likely to take Zenit's place behind the Army Men.

But once you've put away the Prozac, make sure you don't pop any sleeping pills! First of all, the level of competition in the league could erase even the most dogged yawn (see my most recent blog post). Second, if we take a look back at 2015, it's been a nightmarish year for Russian basketball, with the one exception of the VTB United League. Almost everything that could have gone wrong, did: both national teams are set to miss the Rio Olympics, CSKA choked in the Final Four, the Russian Basketball Federation was temporarily suspended... All that we could celebrate was Khimki's win in the Eurocup, Mozgov's NBA Finals appearance, and the continued stability of the United League. 


Tell me, what could be better than saying farewell to 2015?! Let's kick it out the door! Lock up the medicine cabinet, toss the key away and run to the store for some champagne. Coming up with a toast should be a piece of cake this New Year...

May Kirilenko have smooth sailing at the Russian Basketball Federation and FIBA in 2016 and the word "disqualification" be forgotten like a bad dream.

May the men's national team's post-Blatt doldrums finally come to an end and the right coach be found for the job.

May CSKA finally win the Euroleague...although, hold on a second. I don't know about you, but I'll be careful about drinking to CSKA's success at the Final Four this time around. Perhaps we're just jinxing the team. Too often, the toast has come with a "delayed" May hangover...

As for the VTB League, there's not much to say. I guess I'll keep it simple: more health and prosperity. I could get bold and ask for a new champion (please forgive me, CSKA fans). Although, once again, I should probably refrain. Asking for something from CSKA is generally more trouble than it's worth. I need to be a bit more subtle. I've got it: how about CSKA trading in its VTB United League championship for a Euroleague title in 2016? We can agree on the exchange rate at a later date. 

I'm not a superstitious person, but I've got to be honest: this wasn't just a bad year for the sport I've covered for more than 20 years. It was also pretty rotten for me as a journalist! It's an interesting coincidence. But that's not the end of the story: I have big hopes for the New Year. My hopes aren't vague or uncertain. They are actually quite concrete and close at hand. I'll have a new address and a new venture. I truly hope this sport will keep us together, no matter the circumstances.

With that, I'd like to wish you a Happy New Year! Enjoy a New Year of Russian basketball!