Euroleague thriving without NBA imports: Bertomeu

ISTANBUL Wed May 9, 2012 2:39pm EDT

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Europe's premier club basketball competition can continue to thrive without luring NBA players across the Atlantic, Euroleague director Jordi Bertomeu said on Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the weekend's Euroleague Final Four in Istanbul, Bertomeu pointed out that all teams taking part in the season-ending showpiece event had completed their rosters before the July-December NBA lockout.

"We are very proud of that fact and we will stay faithful to our principles because we have proved that we don't need NBA imports to be a top-quality competition drawing millions of fans across Europe," he said.

"The NBA does a superb job marketing its product but our path to success is different and it's rooted in the fact that every game in the Euroleague regular season makes a difference."

Holders Panathinaikos Athens take on favorites CSKA Moscow and Barcelona meet Olympiakos Piraeus in Friday's semi-finals, with the final and the third-place match scheduled for Sunday in Istanbul's Sinan Erdem Arena.

They advanced from a fiercely competitive 24-team league featuring two group stages and best-of-five playoff series which produced a myriad of spectacular games, especially the match-up between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Many Euroleague teams had signed NBA players on a temporary basis during the lockout but fizzled out once their acquisitions went back to North America to compete in the world's most popular basketball league.

"These teams did not really benefit from their short-term imports while those who built their rosters consistently are here in Istanbul, challenging for the trophy," said Bertomeu.

"The quality of our teams is a result of the superb jobs our coaches are doing and the hard work of our players, so our objective is to improve by using our own resources rather than by becoming a carbon copy of the NBA.

"Basketball is a team sport in Europe more so than in the NBA, where individual talent and skill is the decisive factor separating the teams.

"The quality of basketball in Europe has never been closer to that in the NBA and we are looking to expand our market in countries like Germany and the United Kingdom, which have a huge potential to improve," he said.

Bertomeu's native Spain leads the way with five teams in the Euroleague while the other traditional powers such as Greece, Russia, Italy and last season's runners-up Maccabi complete the competition's elite regularly challenging for the trophy.

He also revealed how Euroleague would take steps to make it even more popular among fans.

"We will re-format the second group stage to two groups of eight instead of four groups of four to allow the best teams to play more games among each other because this is what the clubs and the fans wanted," he said.

"On the other hand, we are reluctant to expand the competition to 32 clubs because we have to protect its quality and we've assessed that 24 is the optimum number."

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