There is only one thing more difficult than winning a championship: Doing it again.

That’s the task facing Shane Larkin and Anadolu Efes as they prepare to tip-off their 2021-22 seasons this week.

Fresh off a season that saw Efes win not only the club’s 15th ever Turkish Super League title but, for the first time, the EuroLeague championship — in a thrilling 86-81 win over Barcelona — Shane and the club are looking to keep that momentum going as they prepare to defend their titles for the upcoming season.

“It’s more difficult to be a defending champion,” Shane said in a recent interview with Eurohoops. “We’ve been, in my opinion, the best team over the last three years. And at this point, everybody in the league knows that we are, if not the best team, then one of the best teams and we’re gonna get their best shot every single night.”

Though many players, including Shane and EuroLeague MVP Vasilije Micić were in limbo this offseason, the championship team remains almost fully intact, absent only center Sertaç Şanlı who joined Barcelona in the offseason. And with Shane and Micić returning to once again form one of the best backcourt tandems in EuroLeague history, a title repeat is very much in play for the defending champs. With so much continuity over the years, it’s clear that the team already has a distinct advantage that will be tough to top this coming season.

“When we go out on the court, we feel like we are fighting with our brothers,” Larkin said. “This allowed us to grow as a team and become a special team.”

Reigning Coach of the Year Ergin Ataman is also returning for his fifth season with the club. After taking over as head coach in 2017, Ataman has turned a club that was once at the bottom of the EuroLeague into one of the best teams in the world. Last season gave him his best group yet, and saw him become the first Turkish coach to ever win a EuroLeague title. Now Ataman will look to build off an already impressive run with Anadolu Efes.

“When you have a coach who gives you this confidence, it allows you to play mentally as yourself, which brings development,” Larkin said.

We’ll also be seeing a fully healthy Larkin perform this season after various injuries persisted through most of last season. This year, Shane has decided to take a more patient approach to his ailments — including not participating in last week’s preseason Pavlos Giannakoulos Tournament, which ended in a Panathinaikos victory over Efes — in the hopes of being at full strength for the entirety of EuroLeague play.

“I could’ve played in these games, I believe, but I had a back injury last year so we’re using a cautious approach, allowing my body to recover and build up enough strength so I can make it through a full season,” Larkin said. “We’re taking a different approach this season and allowing my body to recover, rest, heal and train.”

Despite last season’s ailments, Shane still performed at a high level for Anadolu Efes, averaging 15 points per game along with four assists and 1.2 steals. Larkin was also highly efficient with significant volume as a 3-point shooter, averaging 39% on 6.3 attempts per game. Considering Efes was the third most efficient 3-point shooting team, with the second most attempts, in the EuroLeague last year, No. 0’s continued 3-point dominance will be a crucial part of Anadolu Efes’ pursuit of back-to-back EuroLeague titles.

Anadolu Efes’ BSL season begins with a matchup on Saturday, September 25 against Merkezefendi Belediyesi Denizli Basket, who was promoted from the Turkish Basketball First League. Anadolu Efes will debut in the EuroLeague soon after on September 30 in a matchup against Real Madrid, who Anadolu Efes beat in a 3-2 series in the 2021 EuroLeague Playoffs.

This rest of the team’s schedule can be found here.