Defending European Champions Panathinaikos and Olympiakos had rather favourable draws for the Euroleague group stage on July 7, but PAOK Thessaloniki will have a hard task to make it through the qualifiers.
Holder Panathinaikos will be in the same group as Russian giant CSKA Moscow, Unicaja Malaga from Spain, Lithuania’s Zalgiris Kaunas, Bamberg from Germany and KK Zagreb from Croatia. The Greens and CSKA are likely to top the group and go into the second stage of the competition as group leaders. Panathinaikos will also be the host at the opening game of the Euroleague in Athens on October 17, when it will entertain Unicaja Malaga. Olympiakos has been pooled with Caja Laboral and Bilbao of Spain, Turkey’s Fenerbahce Ulker, Cantu of Italy and Nancy of France.
The Reds will face a stiff challenge from Fenerbahce and Caja Laboral. For PAOK to make the group stage, it will have to overcome three hurdles. First the Thessaloniki team must see off Turkish side Galatasaray, with the home and away games starting on September 29 at Pylaia. The winner of that tie will play against the team to emerge from the French battle of Villeurbanne vs Gravelines and if PAOK is still alive it will face Cibona Zagreb, Cholet, Lietuvos Rytas or Buducnost for a place in the Euroleague group stage.
If PAOK has made it to the group stage, it will find itself in the same pool as Real Madrid, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Partizan Belgrade, Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Armani Milano, which is already considered one of the toughest groups in the competition.