It’s no secret that when a ball club struggles with results, changing the head coach is one of the most common ways to get back on track. Basketball EuroLeague is no exception.
Before this week, three coaches had been fired in the season’s strongest series of the Old World: ASVEL from Villeurbanne, Crvena Zvezda from Belgrade and Baskonia all changed coaches in October. At the same time, Zvezda head coach Duško Ivanović, who joined Baskonia for the fourth time, remained the only one to work in the EuroLeague.
On December 13 the Greek Dimitrios Itoudis at Istanbul’s Fenerbahce was added to the list of dismissals. He was one of the league’s most legendary coaches and twice crowned EuroLeague champion.
The Turkish giant’s decision is not at all surprising, to be honest. Being one of the richest clubs in Europe, they have a good squad both in terms of quality and depth, but the team’s performance has been very erratic. Six wins and seven losses in the EuroLeague is far from a disaster when you think about qualifying games, but Fenerbahce is not playing just to reach the playoffs. The Istanbul giant last crowned the most powerful club in the Old World in 2017, wants to lift the coveted trophy again.
The situation is not too rosy in the Turkish championship either, where they are fourth with eight wins and three losses. As the European basketball media wrote, Fenerbahce’s top guys were infuriated by the December 11 battle against the city rival Anadolu Efes, which was lost 80:81. That loss is given a very important context by the fact that essentially half of the Efes team is out due to injuries.
After the news of Itoudis’ dismissal, the rumor mills immediately began to grind about who could be the successor of the Greek. Šarunas Jasikevičius and Andrea Trinchieri are the most talked about, but as always with the European basketball media, everyone knows how to stir up dust.
At the same time, it is clear that Fenerbahce has enough quality to reach, for example, the top four by the end of the regular season. Their team is well ahead of third-placed Bologna Virtus on paper, but unlike the Italian club’s coach Luca Banchi, Itoudis was unable to mould the team into a unified attacking fist. If this turns out to be a success, Fenerbahce will be feared by everyone.
In some ways, Itoudis’ departure can be compared to Ivanović’s departure from Zvezda, because the club managers did not make the decision only by looking at the current season. When Zvezda did not reach the top eight in the EuroLeague last season, there was a chance to correct mistakes in the Adriatic League, but they lost to the rival Belgrade Partizan in the final series.
Last season, Fenerbahce – they were very well equipped then as well – barely made it to the qualifying games, and there they had a mighty battle with the later finalist Olympiacos, but being left out of the top four was certainly disappointing. The erasing of their mistakes in the Turkish championship went to waste because they were already eliminated from the competition in the semi-finals, where they lost 1:3 to the later champion Efes.
With this season in mind, Itoudis faced the first setbacks before the ball was thrown into the air for a rebound. In the summer, they tried to get rid of manager Nick Calathes, because Itoudis did not like his style of play. However, the Greek stayed because he was bound by a contract with Fenerbahce and he did not want to leave because he did not receive a suitable offer elsewhere.
True, this does not mean that Calathes was then put on hold in Turkey. Injuries forced Itoudis to use him quite a bit in the meantime, and the former NBA man generally coped well with the tasks.
However, a much more serious setback was what happened to the expected new main point guard Raul Neto. The Brazilian, who has been without much success in the NBA since 2015, signed a contract with Fenerbahce in August but suffered a
very serious knee injury at the World Cup, which extinguished the hope of seeing him on the court this season.
What went wrong in the game?
Looking at the statistics, Fenerbahce’s standings are delusional. They are only two wins away from fifth place, but in both attack and defense they are one of the worst or the worst clubs in the EuroLeague according to various numbers. And some shortcomings are especially noticeable.
Let’s start with the attack. It’s unclear if Neto’s injury or Itoudis’ game card is to blame, but under the Greek, Fenerbahce played one of the most individual attacks in the EuroLeague. They were also not aggressive when threatening the opponents’ basket because only two teams earned fewer free throws than Fenerbahce (who were behind the one-point line an average of 15 times): Kaunas Žalgiris (12.8) and Bayern Munich (12).
Fenerbahce was not rather passive only in attack, but also in defense. For example, opponents committed only 11.5 turnovers on average when playing against the Turkish giants, which is the fourth-worst figure in the league. With 5.2 interceptions per game, they are the last in this category.
Fenerbahce’s perimeter defense was the main problem. That’s no shock, of course, as Scottie Wilbekin, Marko Gudurić and their other defenders aren’t known as defensive lions. The latter can be said about wing players Nigel Hayes-Davis and Dyshawn Pierre though, but unfortunately for Itoudis, they could not be everywhere at the same time, and on top of that Pierre missed some matches due to a leg injury.
However, Fenerbahce’s biggest weakness was the board fight. 32.3 missed shots per game is the bottom five in the league. Even sadder, however, is the statistic that
shows how many rebounds were taken against Fenerbahce. This number is 36.5 and gives them the last place in the respective table.
Itoudis lost the trust of the players?
Looking at how Itoudis fared with the Greek national team in the summer, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if a coach known for his tough hand and attitude lost the locker room at one point. Just as it happened to T. J. Parker with ASVEL or Joan Penarroyal with Baskonia – in both cases, at one point it was clear that the coach’s time with the team was over, because there was no way he could get them out of the hole. Of course, this does not mean that they are bad instructors.
With several important absentees – it was rumored that some players stayed away precisely because of Itoudis – Greece was limited to the intermediate group at the World Cup, where they decisively lost to Lithuania and narrowly lost to Montenegro. As the case of Dimitris Agravanis shows, Itoudis told at least one team member one thing but did another. Of course, such behavior is not part of the formula for success.
Agravanis recalled after leaving the World Cup team that when Itoudis called him at the beginning of the summer, the player asked that the coach not use him like last year. At that time, Agravanis scored 25 points in a test match against Spain, but barely got into the game in the friendly tournament that followed. According to him, Itoudis promised that he would treat Agravanis fairly this time.
“The control games started and I felt that something was wrong. I only got four, then ten and one minute of playing time against Slovenia. When I found out that I wasn’t even in the squad against Italy, I told Itoudis that he didn’t respect me.
Itoudis asked me what I was talking about. I answered him “You know what” and reminded him of our conversation before the training camp. Then he swore in Serbian, I turned my back, packed my things and left,” he said in August.
It will be interesting to see what Itoudis does next after leaving Fenerbahce. After the World Cup, he withdrew from the Greek national team, so he is now a free
man with a nice resume, but a miserable last few seasons. And Itoud certainly isn’t the freshest fish to catch on the job market.