Monumental Monaco. The Roca Team joined for the first time in its history the Final Four of the Euroleague basketball by sealing Wednesday (97-86) its series of quarter-finals against Maccabi Tel-Aviv (3-2).
It is also the first time that a French team has reached this stage of the competition since Villeurbanne in 1997, 26 years ago.
“I had just been born, it dates back, smiled Elie Okobo. We will try to continue to write history and go as far as possible.”
Only two deadlines separate ASM from the European title: a semi-final against Olympiacos on May 19 in Kaunas before a possible final two days later, still in Lithuania.
From its second participation, here is the club du Rocher in the very select last four of C1. Realization of the flash evolution of a team still in the French third division nine years ago.
The affair was less easy to truss than the thundering start might have led one to think. When Sasa Obradovic’s men inflicted a 15-0 on the Israelis and took off (41-33) in the heart of the second quarter. This highlight bore the signature of a monstrous Mike James, piling up his 21 points (and 5 assists) before the middle of the game.
When an obvious injury, forcing him to go to the locker room, reduced the performance of the American star, Elie Okobo took over (4 points and 3 assists in the last quarter). As for the third tip of the rear trident, Jordan Loyd, she got the decisive fouls: twice three free throws in the last four minutes, much contested by Tel Aviv.
“Jordan was hot, it revived everyone, describes Okobo. We had to make defensive stops behind, give everything on the ground because it was the last.”
With two matches won on each side (2-2), everything was at stake for Monaco in this fifth and final episode, like last year against Olympiacos. Except that their fourth place in the regular season allowed them to play this epilogue in their cocoon of Gaston-Médecin under the Louis-II stadium rather than in the hostility of Piraeus last year or the boiling Tel Aviv this season.
Under the eyes of Prince Albert II and much fewer Israeli supporters than in the first two matches (only 150 places allocated this time), ASM became the fifth club in the French Championship to reach the last four of the queen of European competitions.
To find an Elite club – then still Pro A – at this stage of the C1, you have to go back to 1997: the French football team was not yet world champion, Lionel Jospin, basketball fan in front of the ‘eternal, not yet Prime Minister -appointed a few weeks later.
The Roca Team has already made history, and can hold out some hope. Their next opponent in the semi-finals, Olympiacos, had to go through a fifth game against Fenerbahçe on Tuesday.
And last year, the Monegasques came close to crunching the Greeks. The Piraeus club had deprived them of the last four after a fiery fifth meeting in the misnamed Peace and Friendship stadium.
This time, it will be played on a dry match in Kaunas, Lithuania, the same for the eventual final.
Eight years after its return to the elite, among the eight best clubs in the French championship, here is ASM among the four best in Europe. A dazzling growth driven by its owner who made his fortune in the fertilizer and cereals sector: the Hungarian naturalized Russian Aleksei Fedorychev, CEO and founder of Fedcominvest.
Since the arrival at the helm of Ukrainian businessman Sergey Dyadechko in 2013, the Rock club had already gained financial strength. With the takeover by Aleksei Fedorychev in January 2022, it has changed in size again: 20.7 M EUR, the plumpest budget in the history of the French Championship.
What adorn four other stars, the team already quarter-finalist last year. Mike James’ 24 points and 10 assists weren’t enough? The MVP of the Elite finals, Elie Okobo, who arrived from Villeurbanne, and three renowned Americans, Jordan Loyd, Jaron Blossomgame and John Brown III, joined him this summer to expand the Roca Team. And dream of a first coronation in the Euroleague?
Captain Yakuba Ouattara promises: “We are not going there to make up the numbers.”