AEK’s turbulent history adds to luster of Champions League triumph
AGONAsport’s Peter Katsiris takes a look back at the turbulent times AEK’s basketball department has endured since the start of the millennium…
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AEK’s triumph in the Basketball Champions League was a monumental moment in the club’s history partly because the club captured the title on home court; however, what makes the club’s first-ever triumph in the competition is the turbulent history the club has endured since the start of the millennium.
The 2000s began brightly for AEK as the Enosi were a team to watch on the European stage, while also a force to be reckoned with on the domestic scene in the then-named HEBA Alpha1.
After plenty of heartbreak in the 90’s, AEK quickly found the winning formula as the Enosi began the 2000s with a Greek Cup and Saporta Cup double during the 1999/2000 season.
AEK’s strong performances continued the next season (2000/2001) as AEK successfully defended their Greek Cup crown while also reaching the semifinals in the inaugural season of the EuroLeague – which was now under the authority of the newly formed EuroLeague Basketball Company.
The strong results continued, at least on the domestic end, the following season as AEK end a 32-year drought with their first Greek Championship at the end of the 2001/2002 season. Domestic success clearly became a primary focus at the club after a difficult path in the EuroLeague that season saw AEK fail to make at least the semifinals of a European competition for the first time in three seasons.
AEK were again competitive on the domestic front during the 2002/2003, but the Enosi would fall to a 3-1 series defeat as Panathinaikos reclaimed their throne as Greek Champions after a one-year hiatus. European competition also failed to lead to silverware as AEK suffered a dreadful campaign with a 1-13 run in the EuroLeague regular season.
The 2003/2004 season also failed to bear a trophy for an AEK side that was just a few years removed from being expected to win titles.
Despite yet another finish as runners-up in Greece’s A1 following a series defeat to Panathinaikos during the 2004/2005 season, AEK’s fall from grace was significant in the seasons to come.
While nobody could keep up with Panathinaikos during this time as the Trifylli continued stringing titles together, AEK quickly fell from being a playoff regular to being a bubble team in the playoff chase.
In fact, after making the Final during the 2004/2005 season, AEK failed to escape even the first round in the next five seasons as AEK would miss the playoffs on three occasions in that span. In the two campaigns the club did make the postseason during that run, a stiff matchup against Olympiacos would see AEK’s campaign end far earlier than desired by the club’s brass.
While first round exits were far from ideal, AEK’s executives, coaches, players, and fans alike would’ve preferred losing in the round of the playoffs instead of the disaster that took place during the 2010/2011 season. An 8-18 run that season saw AEK finish the year in the relegation zone – one game behind Panellinios for safety.
It was no coincidence that AEK’s struggles on the court were aligned with the financial troubles the club’s shareholders faced off the court. An inability to allow the club’s front office to remain competitive in the transfer market also meant AEK’s results on the court began to suffer.
Prior to the start of the 2011/2012 season in the second tier of Greek basketball, which was still known as the Alpha2 (A2) National Category, AEK hoped that the appointment of a new administration council would help the club find prosperous times once again.
With Nikos Georgantzoglou as club president, the new administration council took control of the club just in time for the start of the 2011/2012 season. Despite a 20-10 finish, which saw the club locked in a three-way tie, AEK failed to earn promotion back to the top flight; prompting AEK’s board of directors, which continued to see the struggle from financial troubles despite the latest appointments, to declare dissolution.
With the dissolution process complete, AEK’s board of directors then submitted an application to have the club participate as an amateur club in the Greek B Basket League – the third tier of Greek basketball – starting in the 2012/2013 season.
Acclimating to life after dissolution, AEK battled to win promotion out of the B Basket League’s Southern Group along with Psychiko, who edged AEK by one-game for first place and the league championship.
AEK would, however, be satisfied with promotion as the club began its climb back up the Greek basketball ladder. The climb would reach its end goal by the end of the 2013/2014 season in the A2 Basket League. A first-place finish in the league after posting a 24-3 record meant that AEK would finally play top flight basketball once again during the 2014/2015 season – four years after their last campaign in the Basket League.
In September 2014, prior to AEK’s return to the Basket League, Makis Angelopoulos helped secure the future of the club by offering to pay-off the club’s debts and provide a cash injection to help keep the club afloat in the top flight of Greek basketball.
Angelopoulos would continue his support for the club throughout the season and by November, the successful tech mogul would become the majority shareholder in the club by securing 76% ownership of the club.
Following the developments of the club’s security at least financially, AEK began to make strides on the court. In their first season back in the top flight, AEK managed to clinch a berth in the league playoffs; though the Enosi met their match with a quarterfinal loss to Aris. In addition to clinching a playoff berth, AEK’s fifth-place finish in the 2014/2015 Basket League meant that the club would also return to European basketball during their next campaign.
With AEK slowly getting re-acclimated to the top flight, Angelopoulos was appointed AEK chairman in November 2015 -- nearly one year to the day after securing majority control of the club.
Although the club’s financial security was seemingly progressing at a rapid rate, AEK’s progress towards becoming a competitive top-tier club in terms of results on the court were progressing at much slower rate. AEK would experience growing pains in Europe during the 2015/2016 campaign as the club slowly nursed its way back to being competitive on both fronts. While AEK saw progress on the domestic front with a fourth-place finish in the Basket League and 2-1 series win over PAOK in the quarterfinals, the club experienced growing pains in Europe as AEK failed to escape the first group stage after notching a 5-5 record.
The club found itself in Europe yet again during the 2016/2017 season, but the aftermath of a bureaucratic conflict between FIBA and the EuroLeague Basketball Company meant that AEK would join the likes of Aris and PAOK in FIBA’s Basketball Champions League.
AEK would continue to show progress on both fronts during the 2016/2017 season as a third-place finish in the Basket League helped AEK advance on a bye to the quarterfinals of the league playoffs. AEK would advance to the Basket League’s Final Four via a 2-0 sweep of Rethymno but would lose out to eventual champions Panathinaikos in the semifinals.
In Europe that same season, AEK also managed to make progress by securing a berth in the knockout rounds of the Basketball Champions League after finish runners-up in their group. After defeating Lithuanian side Juventus in the first knockout round, AEK narrowly missed out on a quarterfinal berth after falling to Monaco by just seven points on aggregate in the Round of 16.
Although AEK showed progress season-after-season, the club couldn’t have anticipated the success AEK would enjoy during this current campaign – the 2017/2018 season. AEK’s morale was certainly uplifted with early success in the Greek Cup. After a rather expected win over Rethymno in the quarterfinals, AEK would follow-up on their win over the Cretan Kings with a monumental win over six-time defending champions Panathinaikos in the semifinals.
While AEK would seal their first Greek Cup in 17 years with a triumph over Olympiacos in the Final in February, time would tell that the Cup triumph wouldn’t be the club’s most-impressive triumph on the year.
A rocky-road – at times – to the Final Four in Athens would certainly leave fans on the edge of their seat as AEK enjoyed many close-calls and thrilling victories en route to hosting the Basketball Champions League’s showcase event.
Wins over UCAM Murcia and AS Monaco secured AEK’s first European silverware in 18 years, though the club will hope that it won’t be the final trophy they add to their cabinet at season’s end with the club set to negotiate their way in the Basket League playoffs.