CZECH WOMEN’S COACH: “PRESSURE WON’T GET TO US”
Czech Republic head coach Lubor Blazek accepted a tough draw for the 16th FIBA World Championship for Women with humility.
Lubor Blazek is well aware of how strong the opposition (Russia, Argentina, and Japan) in Group C is and his respect for those opponents remains extremely high even after the Czechs’ strong run of form in recent times, which has seen them beat all their group opponents in major competitions.
“I thought our competitors would be even stronger, but it cannot be said that this group is in any way easy,” he said after the draw was held.
Blazek considers the Russian team to be the strongest competitor as they are the traditional rivals. “It is a team that usually makes it to the final.” He added before warning his players against other teams. “Japan knows how to surprise and we are not used to the Asian style of play. The South Americans also have a good team. I don’t want to judge now whether the draw has been favourable.
We will be able to say that and you will see us smile, only when we succeed in our group.”
His team will be playing in front of an expectant home crowd, Blazek is not afraid of any great pressure. Instead, he firmly believes the home side can deal with the fans’ expectations.“I am convinced that the pressure coming from the public will be fair and motivating. Playing in your own country must be an advantage,” Blazek insisted. Furthermore, the names of eight players, who will definitely be participating in the FIBA World Championship for Women were announced. They are Petra Kulichova, Katerina Elhotova, Marketa Bednarova, Hana Horakova, Eva Viteckova, Jana Vesela, Ivana Vecerova and Ilona Burgrova. Blazek thinks that announcing a part of the nominated players in advance is a good move from a psychological point of view.
RUBIO AND SAEZ EXPECT USA CLASH
The two sides met in arguably the greatest ever Olympic final in 2008, and it’s what basketball fans from Vigo to Valencia on the Iberian peninsula want to see happen at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. And that includes Spain’s exciting young point guard Ricky Rubio.
“You always want to face the best and more so against Team USA, who beat us at the Olympics,” said the 19-year-old Spaniard. “Whenever you lose against a team, you always want to avenge that defeat, especially when it happened in a final.” A lot of things must happen for Team USA and Spain to meet in another glamorous gold-medal game. In fact, in a 24-team tournament, it’s unlikely to happen because there are so many hurdles to clear to reach the final. The Spaniards struggled early on at last year’s EuroBasket in Poland, when they lost to Serbia and Turkey before eventually steadying the ship and going on to win the gold medal, and Rubio knows that thinking about a podium finish with the FIBA World Championship still several months away is the last thing he and his teammates should be doing. The most important thing for Spain is to focus on their Group D opponents. “A World Championship is difficult and we know there are teams of a great level, but if we want to be champions, we have to beat all of them,” Rubio rationalised. “Lithuania and France are familiar teams that are very good. Against France, in last year’s EuroBasket, we knew we had to give our best as we were playing for everything. It would be a mistake for us to think of winning a medal because we know how complicated the tournament is. This was the case in Poland last summer where we were thinking about gold and we took our time to get on our feet after the defeats to Serbia and Turkey.” The Basketball Federation President Jose Luis Saez was at the draw for this year’s FIBA World Championship in Istanbul and offered some thoughts about the draw. “It is probably inevitable that the World Championship group draw in Istanbul has been from the perspective of a hypothetical confrontation between Spain and the United States. The memory of the unforgettable Olympic final is still very much alive in the world of our sport. But, as we have done in all previous championships, we look no further than the first matches, with respect to all our competitors and trust in our own possibilities."
AUSTRALIA RESPECTFUL, BUT ALSO AMBITIOUS AFTER DRAW
Australia’s chances of a podium finish at the last FIBA World Championship in 2006 were severely dented when they played in a Preliminary Round ‘Group of Death’.
Now led by Brett Brown, the Aussies have again ended up in a very tough group for the 2010 FIBA World Championship, though it is perhaps not as brutal as the one they were in four years ago in Hamamatsu when they faced Greece, Turkey, Lithuania, Brazil and Qatar.
This time around, Australia will face Serbia, Germany, Argentina, Angola and Jordan in Group A. Similar to the other three groups, there appears to be tremendous balance.
Australia did manage to avoid the United States – the team that hammered them at the quarter-final stage at the Beijing Games – and defending world champions Spain.
“I don’t know if happy is the word,” Brown said of how to describe the draw for the Boomers. “Each of the pools has different positives and negatives and overall the draw just gives you more clarity on how to prepare.”
Brown signled out Germany and Serbia as games that will be particularly intriguing to him as a coach. As an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs, he is accustomed to competing against German star Dirk Nowitzki, the marquee player for the Spurs’ Texan rivals Dallas Mavericks.
“Any team that has an NBA MVP on the floor is dangerous and Dirk Nowitzki is as difficult a player to guard as we face here in the NBA,” he said. “I put him in the same category as a Kobe Bryant or LeBron James; he’s a very unusual defensive assignment because of his seven-foot frame and his skill package that goes along with it, highlighted by his shooting ability which really is remarkable for a man of his size.”
“And when you have somebody who is that good, it tends to do a few things. It’s a weapon for an up-and-coming country obviously and it produces a confidence level amongst the other players when you have that type of a team-mate on the floor. So Germany are extremely dangerous because they are good in their own right and then you add Dirk. It really changes the landscape when somebody of that talent can come into the group,” Brown added.
Australia’s head coach is also fully aware of counterpart Dusan Ivkovic and his past achievements, which include perhaps the best coaching job he has ever done with Serbia, having led a relatively young and inexperienced side to a silver-medal finish at last year’s EuroBasket in Poland.
“Coach Ivkovic is a European coaching legend and that country, when it started to be on the decline from the level that they had been used to, reached out to him and really sought his advice on how to fix it,” Brown said. “A year and a half ago they opted to go with youth and with people that truly wanted to be there. They were not influenced by NBA resumes and they streamlined their approach with a youthful team that really had a passion for being part of the world stage again.”
Before they meet in Turkey, Australia and Serbia look set to clash off the court. Both nations are after Aleks Maric, a 25-yearold of Serbian parentage heritage who learned his basketball Down Under [at the Australian Institute of Sport] and even played for the Aussies at junior level. The 2.11m center is now at Partizan Belgrade and has had two jaw-dropping Euroleague games that have all but put his name in flashing lights in Europe, which saw him being named Euroleague MVP for the month of December.
Ivkovic was in attendance at the draw for the FIBA World Championship and has since indicated he wants Maric to play for Serbia. Wayne Cooper, a former Boomers shooting guard who is now the general manager for high performance for Basketball Australia – and was also at the draw in Istanbul – indicated that Maric was very much a part of his country’s plans.
And the battle for Maric belongs to a broader new approach that Serbia is taking, in which Brown sees Ivkovic as the key proponent. “They have rebuilt their programme and their results in Europe recently confirm that their decision was an accurate one and an intelligent one. He (Ivkovic) is a hell of a coach that has put together that programme. They’re on the up and up. To have achieved that success in Europe with a very, very young group in the infant stages of a new philosophy is extremely impressive, so you have to expect that team to continue to get better.” But Brown will be aware that it won’t all be about focusing on one player, whether it’s Nowitzki or Maric. And, of course, Angola and Jordan aren’t exactly basketball lightweights either. Then there's the small matter of taking on Argentina, the team ranked top in the world. Brown's clarity on how to prepare will indeed be put to the test, as of 28th August 2010.