|Andrea Cinciarini had some great performances in Slovenia, always leaving his heart on the floor|
By Dimitris Kontos
History is written by victors. Heroes, the kind of which epic tales have talked about since the beginning of history, always triumph. Professional sport is all about winning.
These are indisputable truths of the human experience, universal facts.
Yet anyone who had seen Andrea Cinciarini in the minutes after the loss to Serbia, which condemned Italy to leave Slovenia as the only team in the Top-8 of EuroBasket 2013 to have failed to qualify for the FIBA World Cup 2014, would tell you otherwise.
The 27-year-old point guard cut a heroic figure as he walked through the mixed zone behind the court area, if ever there was one in sport.
Making a huge effort to hold back his tears, Cinciarini was in those moments the embodiment of super-human effort, an exhausted man who had been surpassing his physical and mental limits for three weeks - and he could still stand tall way above his 1.90m, tall as a giant.
"To reach the quarter-finals and finish eighth leaves you obviously with the most bitter taste imaginable," Cinciarini told fibaeurope.com
"To miss out on the semi-finals because you played with the finalists [Lithuania], to miss out on the World Cup like this and to be the only one of the eight teams, is not the easiest thing to accept.
"It finished in the worst possible way.
"We started training camp on 21st July, we were working for 60 days and to finish it with this feeling of loss, it really burns.
"It really burns inside.
"I am sorry because we gave everything and we really believed in it.
"We believed that we can make the semi-finals or at least finish at least one step above, in the top 7."
"But, on the other hand, one needs to accept the loss too and I need to congratulate my team-mates and the staff when just before the start of the championship everyone thought this team had no luck.
"We played 11 games in 17 days and we played the last three within 48 hours, that is really a lot, and yet our pressure on defence was almost the same until the end.
"We gave 200% of what we can, even when you are so tired you need to render on the court whatever you have left.
"The daily work, our heart, our character came out.
"We need to accept the verdict and see the positive side because two years ago we went out in the First Round.
"Not withstanding the result, it is obviously worth so much to play for the national team.
"You represent your nation, you have to leave your heart out there and give '2,000 of 2,000'.
|Simone Pianigiani: "These guys really did an enormous amount, they really played for Italy"|
BUILDING THE ITALIAN CORE
Once the dust had settled on Italy's campaign in this EuroBasket, this was the point that also head coach Simone Pianigiani mentioned as the biggest benefit of the Slovenian adventure at a wrap-up meeting with Italian media.
"Through all this, what was important for me was not to lose lose what we had built last summer," Pianigiani said.
"We have a group of players who are now looking forward to work as a group, are proud to come to the national team and work hard with every chance or window we get.
"The players' spirit of longing to play for the national team, to come together and collaborate as a group, that is the most positive.
"I can only praise my players for their commitment, their willingness to change roles and believe in this system."
Italy's system involved several players playing out of position, out of necessity.
Every guard had to fill all backcourt positions as well as help at the power forward spot occasionally, as Italy tried to stretch the floor and played four men wide.
"A team that is more athletic, that has a deeper roster, recuperates faster from fatigue," Pianigiani said.
"When I say deeper roster, I don't mean that I don't have enough players who can play well, I mean I have players in the same positions.
"Considering that we were the least equipped team, in terms of experience and playing roles among the first eight, then to finish this EuroBasket with more wins than losses is a success, although one win more would have changed everything.
"These guys really did an enormous amount, they really played for Italy."
|Andrea Cinciarini is convinced that this group of players will return stronger next summer|
IT WAS NOT ALL FOR NOTHING
Cinciarini himself has a brief spell in the Euroleague while playing for Cantú and became a senior international at EuroBasket 2011, where Italy only played five games as they did not qualify for the Second Round.
In the wake of Italy's farewell game at EuroBasket 2013, he was mainly asked two questions by the media.
Firstly, how did he explain his excellent performances in Slovenia, although he played mostly out of position, at the '2' or even the '3' spot.
"If you don't have the big European experience, you need to believe in yourself, to believe in your team-mates and believe that you have the trust of the coach," the guard said.
"I felt all of those things and tried to do my best."
Secondly, whether it was a mistake for Italy to put in so much effort in defeating Spain in overtime, during their last game in the Second Round, if they could have saved up some energy.
"No, I don't agree," Cinciarini replied categorically.
"If you ask anyone who plays basketball what they would want if they go up against Spain, the European champions, everyone would play to win.
"We won and unfortunately it left us with nothing, and in hindsight everyone is good at making calculations.
"But I am extremely happy to have beat Spain, as I am extremely content to have fought until the last breath against Lithuania.
"I've heard from some people that it's better to exit earlier and not suffer like this for 'nothing', but I am satisfied and proud of what we've done.
"This experience will help us grow, sure there is the bitterness on one side but on the other hand we are conscious that we had a great campaign and we reached within a whiff of making the semi-finals.
"But I've never received so many messages, from so many people who came back close to basketball, so many people that started watching basketball again and fall in love again with this sport.
"I've been part of a fantastic, united group and this I will take back with me and from tomorrow we all the have the right to dream of a better future.
"We hold our heads high, knowing that we played some good games and we will wait to see if we get a wild card [for the World Cup].
"Otherwise we will start over next year, even stronger than before."