Serbian team Crvena Zvezda Beograd (or Red Star Belgrade in English) is the hottest team in Europe right now. In the Adriatic League, they have not lost a game in over a year and are currently having a 19-0 streak. If you add up the last games of the 2015/2016 season, they have an incredible 29-0 streak in the Adriatic League. That’s unprecedented. Crvena Zvezda currently also holds the longest winning streak in the Euroleague with seven games. Two more than Real Madrid. Crvena Zvezda only has one-tenth of the budget of the other Euroleague teams. What’s going on here? What’s the secret of the red & whites?
If you look at the Euroleague statistics, there is nothing special going on with Crvena Zvezda. The team is pretty much the middle of the pack in everything. Except in points scored by the opponent. Here is the where the team excels. It wouldn’t do justice to the team’s defense if we merely looked the average points per game scored by the opponent. Why not? Because the number of points scored also depend on the pace of the game (tempo). Some teams play up-tempo and run at every opportunity. Others like to milk the clock and “walk it up.” Therefore, the pace of the game influences the numbers of possessions teams will have and the opportunities to score, rebound and compile other statistics. Advanced statistics give us a more accurate picture. They show that Crvena Zvezda allows only 106.2 points per 100 possessions (before the game vs Panathinaikos). The best in the Euroleague. The two top-ranked Euroleague teams Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow allow 110.9 and 111.5 respectively. In yesterday’s win over Panathinaikos, it was the third Euroleague game in a row that the opponent was held under 70 points. Sito Alonso, head coach of Spanish team Baskonia stated: “Red Star is not only a team that competes, but it is also one of the best teams in the EuroLeague at the moment, especially when it comes to defense, aggression and dynamic. They are playing incredible defense, one of the best I have ever seen.”
Coach Dejan Radonjić
The mastermind behind all this is of course head coach Dejan Radonjić. With a good instinct for team chemistry, he put together a young and motivated team without any real stars. None of the American imports scores more than 8 ppg and no player on the team averages more than 26 minutes per game. Ognjen Kuzmić is statistically the best player of Crvena Zvezda and that with only 10.1 ppg. However, a deeper look at the advanced stats shows that Kuzmić has a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 23.3 which ranks him 7th in the Euroleague! Coach Dejan Radonjić does an excellent job of rotating his players and getting the bench involved. He has to. Over the last three months, his team has been playing a game every three days on average. Most importantly, every player seems to understand his role and be happy with it too. Coach Radonjić has been the head coach of Crvena Zvezda for the last four years, which is the most any coach has led the club in the last 25 years! He has carefully built his team. Step by step. With a vision.
Yes, Delije! That’s how the Crvena Zvezda fans call themselves. They are truly the sixth man of their team. They showed up en masse on the 26th of March 2014 and set an official European attendance record with 24,232. On many occasions since then, the fans filled up the Kombank Arena. They give their favorite team a boost and help intimidate their opponents. That said, both the players and the fans prefer to play in the smaller and more intimate “Hala Aleksandar Nikolić” (formerly known as “Pionir”). The fans are closer to the court there, and the gym can only accommodate the 6,000 most fanatic fans. In a recent poll of EuroLeague general managers, Crvena Zvezda fans were voted as the loudest in Europe.
Club President Nebojša Čović
Nebojša Čović is the President of Crvena Zvezda and is a controversial figure in Serbia. This former mayor of Belgrade was a power player in Serbian politics for a long time before he moved into sports. In the 90’s he was president of the basketball federation before he moved on the be the president of FMP Zeleznik. This club came from nowhere, and all of a sudden became a household name in the former Yugoslav republics and far beyond. Especially for the youth program which produced many top level players. Crvena Zvezda at that time was on the verge of collapse. The club was technically bankrupt and could hardly win a game when Čović came to rescue. Through a complicated deal between FMP and Crvena Zvezda Nebojša Čović became the President of Crvena Zvezda and managed to turn things around. In just a few years Čović has brought financial stability to the club and made it a powerhouse in the Adriatic league as well as a dangerous dark horse in the Euroleague. Just like coach Radonjić, Čović too had a vision and took one step at the time. Serbs may love him or hate him (especially Partizan fans), but Nebojša Čović is as much part of this success story as any of the players and the coach.