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Joan Plaza (Zalgiris Kaunas)

KAUNAS (Euroleague) - Joan Plaza owes a debt of gratitude to Bozidar Maljkovic.

Maljkovic’s decision to leave Real Madrid several years ago paved the way for his assistant, Plaza, to take the helm.

He made the most of the opportunity, building a strong reputation as Madrid coach.

In that first season after Maljkovic and under Plaza, the 2006-07 campaign, Madrid won the old ULEB Cup and the Spanish ACB title.

Plaza set the bar very high for himself and Madrid that year because while they did well the following two campaigns, winning 26 of their 40 games in the Euroleague, they didn't capture another title.

After leading Madrid and spending a couple of seasons at Cajasol Sevilla, Plaza is out of Spain and facing a new challenge.

He is coaching Zalgiris in Kaunas, Lithuania, and first up in the Euroleague this week is a game against none other than Maljkovic, the boss of Cedevita Zagreb.

Both men have a lot of respect for each other.

"Talking about our first opponent, Cedevita Zagreb, first thing I have to mention is a special coach Bozidar Maljkovic," Plaza said.

"I was his assistant some time ago and he was one of most important coaches I have personally met in my career."

Maljkovic, who is also the coach of Slovenia's national team, needs no introduction.

He is one of the finest in European basketball history.

Maljkovic led great Jugoplastika Split teams to glory and he was named Yugoslavian Coach of the Year (1987-88, 1988-89 and 1989-90) and European Coach of the Year (1988-89 and 1989-90).

His Jugoplastika teams won FIBA EuroLeague crowns in 1989 and ’90.

He also captured the EuroLeague title with CSP Limoges in 1993 and then again in 1996 with Panathinaikos.

Maljkovic is expecting a tough encounter against the man who once worked alongside him in the Spanish capital.

"They have good offensive rebounding and play tough and they are led by Joan Plaza, my ex-assistant from Real Madrid. I’m expecting 15,000 fans," he said.

"Can we do it? I don’t know, but we will try.”