|Forward Kristjan Kangur averaged 13.3 points and five rebounds for Estonia in the Qualification Round |
By Jeff Taylor
It would be understandable if Kristjan Kangur and his Estonia teammates tried to put their fists through walls in frustration, after narrowly missing out on a spot in next year's EuroBasket.
Every player on the continent wants to experience the big tournament environment and Estonia were within touching distance of a place in the Final Round but ultimately missed out on a goal differential tie-breaker to Israel and Serbia.
But Kangur, while disappointed, looks back with a sense of pride at the performances and the camaraderie in the squad.
Estonia beat experienced EuroBasket teams Israel and Serbia just as many times as the Israelis and Serbians beat them.
This is what the 29-year-old Kangur will remember.
"Yes, absolutely," he said.
"I had a great feeling for the games. We beat two big teams, winning against Israel and Serbia.
"I was really happy to be a part of this team.
"This summer we showed that other teams have to do their best to beat us.
"It's one of the things that I'm happy about because before, teams thought they would go to Estonia and easily come away with a win but now, they have to think about this.
"We are trying to make it really hard for them."
WHAT MADE ESTONIA TOUGH TO BEAT?
Estonia may have once been deemed pushovers but no one can say that anymore.
Kangur and his Estonia teammates were not in awe of the competition in the EuroBasket Qualification Round.
"I think we had a really, really good team spirit, in the locker room and off the court," he said.
"(Of) The players, Siim-Sander Vene really surprised me.
"He didn't play last summer, so I didn't know his situation but he really helped the team.
"I think he was the top scorer, even."
Vene, a 20-year-old small forward, averaged a team-high 14 points.
He had 15 points and 10 rebounds in Estonia's 88-81 home triumph over Serbia in the penultimate game of the Qualification Round.
"Also, a lot of guys had played in the VTB (United League), so they were experienced playing against the big teams and the big players.
"I think that also made a difference, that they are used to played such difficult."
A LATE BLOOMER
|Estonia's Gert Dorbek (right) vying with Serbia's Zoran Erceg in the Belgrade game between the two sides - the Estonians won one and lost one against the EuroBasket 2009 silver medallists |
Kangur has not followed the normal route to a basketball career.
He had concentrated on another sport in his early teens.
"I started playing late," he said.
"I was 16 when I started to play."
Kangur had played hoops with his friends, but not organized basketball.
"I always liked it," he said.
"Maybe I should have done this (switched sports) before.
"Before that, I was in track and field.
"I was doing everything (in track and field)."
When he made the decision to focus on basketball, Kangur could not have envisioned that his career would take of the way that it has.
He spent the last couple of seasons with Cimberio Varese and this year, he will play for one of the best teams in Europe in recent seasons, Italian juggernauts Montepaschi Siena.
Montepaschi are in transition, having waved good-bye to their very successful coach, new Fenerbahce boss Simone Pianigiani, and some key players.
There will nevertheless be pressure to succeed at Siena.
"I thought about this during the summer," Kangur said.
"Right now, I've been here (in Siena) four or five days.
"It's going to be a really difficult season, a lot of travelling and a lot of games and a lot of pressure, also.
"I'm trying to get ready for this and help the team as I can.
"Every game on the court is a bonus for me. Mentally, I'm totally ready."
The prospect of playing in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague again, as he did with Varese, is exciting.
"I wanted to take this step, to play in the Euroleague again," Kangur said.
"You cannot be a basketball player if you don't want to be taking the next step.
"For me, it's a great opportunity and I'm hoping to take advantage."
RETURNING TO THE NATIONAL TEAM
Once the season in Italy is over, Kangur will again be reunited with his Estonia teammates and coach Tiit Sokk.
The Baltic side will start their campaign to attempt to reach EuroBasket 2015 in Ukraine.
Kangur says there never has been, nor will there ever be, a temptation for him to take the summer off and have an extended holiday.
"I've always played when I can," Kangur said, "if everything is okay with me physically.
"I've always tried to help the team.
"I've never thought about just taking the summer off. It's just logical for me."
Most important of all for Kangur and Estonia will be the mindset that they carry into their next campaign.
"You never give up," he said.
"It didn't turn out well for us this time, but maybe next time.
"We're never going to give up.
"We'll try again."