National team stars in Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four limelight
MADRID (Turkish Airlines Euroleague) - All season long, leading players in international basketball have taken center stage in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague.
This weekend at the Final Four in Madrid, several will attempt to put exclamation marks on what has already been terrific campaigns.
On Friday, Olympiacos will square off against CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce Ulker will go up against hosts Real Madrid.
The winners will meet on Sunday for the title while Friday's losing sides will battle it out for third place.
Rudy Fernandez, a member of Spain's senior national team since 2004, will be looking to put on a show in his homeland for Madrid.
It's something he has done all season long.
In February, no player in Europe was better than the 30-year-old.
Fernandez averaged 13.5 points per game in Madrid's 3-1 playoff series triumph over Anadolu Efes.
The fans will also get a good look at Madrid guards Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull, the two players who are likely to receive the lion's share of minutes at point guard for Spain at EuroBasket 2015.
Rodriguez dazzled with his passes and dribbling again this season and Llull brought his usual toughness and scoring.
Gustavo Ayon, the MVP of the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship, has been outstanding of late.
The center has been what Madrid were hoping for when they signed him after his terrific FIBA Basketball World Cup campaign.
Another prominent Spain national team player over the years in the Madrid lineup is Felipe Reyes, a power forward who seems to be getting better the older he becomes.
The 35-year-old was so effective on both ends of the floor this season for Madrid that he earned a place on the All-Euroleague First Team, with Fernandez taking a spot on the Second Team.
Other national teams have players that log important minutes for Madrid.
Ioannis Bourousis of Greece, Andres Nocioni and Facundo Campazzo of Argentina, Jonas Maciulis of Lithuania and Salah Mejri of Tunisia, the AfroBasket 2011 MVP, all play for the team.
Madrid have the experience of reaching the Final Four on numerous occasions, and making it to the title game in each of the last two seasons.
What they have not been able to do on either occasion, however, is go on to capture the championship.
Fenerbahce Ulker, meanwhile, are making their Final Four bow and the Serbian connection of Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica is a big reason why.
Bogdanovic is the recipient of the Rising Star Trophy for the second year running (he took the honor last season with Partizan Belgrade) while Bjelica earned a spot on the All-Euroleague First Team.
Bogdanovic had some incredible moments last year at the World Cup with Serbia, helping them make it to the Final.
Perhaps no player has been more important to Fenerbahce, certainly in their recent history, than Bjelica.
He led his team in performance index rating (18.3 per game), rebounding (8.6) and steals (1.2).
The 27-year-old, whose draft rights are owned by the Minnesota Timberwolves, was also second on the team in scoring (11.9 points), blocks (0.7) and fouls drawn (3.2 per game).
Bjelica led all Euroleague players in defensive rebounds (180) and ranked second in index rating (494) and total rebounds (231).
He scooped the Player of the Month Award for March and on Friday, Bjelica was named as the league's MVP.
"I want to thank everybody who chose me for this and to my family for supporting me all these years," Bjelica said.
"This is a historic moment for my club and team, Fenerbahce Ulker.
"I also want to thank my teammates and coaches and everybody at Fenerbahce Ulker who made this happen."
Jan Vesely of the Czech Republic, Emir Preldzic and Oguz Savas of Turkey, Luka Zoric of Croatia and Nikos Zisis of Greece have all been crucial for Fenerbahce this season.
Bjelica's compatriot, Milos Teodosic, has once again been one of the main men for CSKA Moscow.
Teodosic was an All-Euroleague First Team selection after averaging 7.1 assists per game - the second highest mark in Euroleague history.
It's helped Teodosic that France's Nando de Colo returned from the NBA to play in Europe for CSKA because the combo guard has been a whirling dervish.
He claimed All-Euroleague Second Team honors.
De Colo has been worth the price of admission on most nights.
He was the Player of the Month for January.
De Colo led CSKA in performance index ranking (16.8 points), steals (1.38) and fouls drawn (4.3).
Manuchar Markoishvili of Georgia and both Sasha Kaun and Andrey Vorontsevich of Russia are international basketball players that suit up for CSKA.
Olympiacos, who knocked off Barcelona in the playoffs, are led once against by their Greece national team stars Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Kostas Sloukas and Vangelis Mantzaris, while Matt Lojeski, who will play for Belgium at the EuroBasket, is key as well.
Spanoulis will go down as one of the all-time greats in European basketball history, something he reminded everyone of again by making the All-Euroleague First Team for the third time in the last four years.
The 32-year-old, the Euroleague MVP for October, averaged a team-high 14.9 points per game.
Printezis, who beat capped an incredible comeback in the Final a few years ago against CSKA Moscow with a game-winning basket near the death was back to his best in the playoffs.
He showed yet again that he is a player that can make the big shot with time running down.
If recent Euroleague Final Fours are any indication, this year's edition should be special.
Those national team players that capture crown will have an extra bounce in their step when they show up for international duty and try to lead their respective sides into the Olympics.