The shift of generations always comes at some point, but I didn’t expect that it would come right now and in the way it did.
I fell in love with all of the youngsters already in the group stage when the round robin games occurred in Helsinki, Finland.
Finland, the host nation of the group stage games, had the talented Lauri Markkanen, drafted by Chicago Bulls, as their attraction number one for the basketball world and for the home crowd.
With his power and his look from the 1970’s he charmed everyone and brought Finland to playoffs. During the preliminary round they only lost against Slovenia, and that by very few points. They defeated Turkey, Greece, Iceland, Poland, and France.
That says a lot how much Finnish basketball has evolved the last years. But, Italy was too heavy for them in the 1/8 final, and the Finnish wonder journey ended there.
Besides Markkanen, there were Luka Doncic and Goran Dragic in Slovenia who played extremely well all the way to the final.
Together with their older teammate Gasper Vidmar, they outplayed and crumbled Spain totally in the Semi-finals, in a way no one could have expected before the referee tossed the ball in the middle.
Most likely I can’t have been the only one who rubbed the eyes after 2 quarters in that game.
Spain, on their hand, trusted too much in the Gasol brothers. Hernandez and Rubio were too exposed to make any difference and were stunned by the Slovenian super-trio and the other players like Prepelic and Dimec, who also showed that they can play high-level basketball.
Alexander Djordjevic had no other option than trusting the team he could gather before the journey to Helsinki and then to the knockout rounds in Istanbul.
Serbia had so many injuries among the big names like Teodosic, Bjelica, and Raduljica. Stefan Markovic, who only just turned 28, announced that he will retire from International basket.
The expectations that usually come from a medal in the Olympic Games were reduced least by 50 % among the fans and experts. No, Serbia will be excluded way earlier than the final was a common conclusion.
But Coach Djordjevic who singlehandedly himself 20 years ago crushed the Lithuanians in the final of EuroBasket 1996 (I remember this well as if it were yesterday) gave the trust to Bogdan Bogdanovic, Stefan Jovic, Vladimir Lucic, Dragan Milosavljevic and Boban Marjanovic
Not only them of course, as we shall not forget a player such as Milan Macvan. They showed definitely to the whole of Europe that things were otherwise, that there is a genuine basketball team. It was not just a bunch of missing names, but also the participating ones would defend the Serbian basketball pride more than well.
And, they did, in a way, no one could have thought before, led by Bogdanovic who demonstrated that he is the next superstar for real, a reliable player that Djordjevic can trust 40 minutes of a game.
In the final game, a battle between two Balkan countries who were once brothers when they were united as Yugoslavia was fought bravely for the shiniest medal.
And what a battle!
I thought myself for a long time between the 2nd and 3rd quarter that it would go to OT. But Slovenia at the end, without an injured Doncic, shaped themselves up and took back the lead they had lost for a moment.
With important points at the end of the game by Prepelic and Randolph and a re-woken Dragic who had some scoring issues from time to time during the 3rd and 4th quarter, they finally reached the championship of EuroBasket for the first time in their history!
Overall, it was also the most righteous victory as well, considering that the Slovenes outnumbered the former superior champions from Spain.
Hvala i cestitam (thank you and congratulations) Slovenia for a tremendous basketball show and we will look forward to adventures with this team in the coming years, in World Cup and the Olympics.
To the last:
I don’t know the deepest motivation for this Slovenian team except for the gold medal in a major tournament as the EuroBasket, but, perhaps they wanted so much to give a small country with a small population and big heart for sports something to enjoy greatly.
Most of all, something to remember as long as they live.
A champion needs a motivation above and beyond winning.
-Pat Riley, a Coach, born 1945 –
Highlights of the EuroBasket:
1. The youngsters Luka Doncic, Goran Dragic, Lauri Markkanen, and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
2. Slovenia and Serbia showed that there are a huge, huge basketball culture in the area, fantastic teams, and performances from both teams.
3. Finland who made no one disappointed as host nation but most of all, they show that they evolve all the time and have the capacity to beat any team, any day with the right temper.
4. Latvia ended up as the best team of the Baltic countries. For a long time, it has only been Lithuania. A very nice surprise and they were so close to defeating Slovenia in the earlier playoff rounds.
5. Fantastic fans from all countries who have been chanting, singing and cheering. A total basketball party as a sporting event of this significance always should be.