|26 July 2012|
| Antonija Chiabov knows that tradition is not on Croatia's side at the U18 European Championship Women, but she is confident they have a very good team|
By Paul Nilsen
The feel good factor is well and truly alive for women's basketball in Croatia and Antonija Chiabov has every intention of ensuring it continues, as she dreams of following in the Olympic footsteps of the senior national team.
While focusing all of her efforts on helping Croatia to post a strong performance at the U18 European Championship Women in Bucharest and recover from an opening-day loss to the Netherlands, it's unsurprising that Chiabov and her team-mates will have one eye on events in London as Croatia makes history.
"Of course we are going to see them and watch their results," smiled the 1.90m centre.
"The Croatia team is amazing and they did very well to get to the Olympics in London.
"For me, there is always now hope to play at the Olympics one day since this is the best honour for any athlete."
The attention and accomplishments racked up by senior team head coach Stipe Bralic and the likes of Sandra Mandir, Ana Lelas and Marija Vrsaljko is just the kind of inspiration young players thrive on, although Chiabov herself is not exactly a stranger to success.
At her first ever junior tournament two years ago, she walked away with a silver medal after Croatia made it to the final of the U16 European Champiopnship Women in Greece.
"Winning the silver medal was amazing. It was totally unexpected and unforgettable," explained Chiabov.
"For me, as a younger player, it was a great honour and privilege.
"And the off the court part of the tournament was brilliant also. Greece is very beautiful and my team was absolutely great.
"We were all together every day and we laughed a lot and enjoyed every single day there."
Last summer didn't bring the same kind of medal success at U16 level. Indeed Croatia had to work hard to avoid relegation to Division B.
But, having stayed in the top flight, Chiabov reflects on the tournament with glowing praise and satisfaction.
"Last year in Cagliari was the best tournament I have attended so far.
"Me playing well wasn't enough to win a medal and that is a pity because we had a good team. Perhaps it was not as good as the one in Greece the year before but still pretty good.
"Our first goal was staying in Division A and we managed that," she added.
Moving up to the U18 Championship with another Division A campaign means a fresh challenge and Chiabov is hoping Croatia can compete against some of the nations with a bigger reputation at youth level - even if they did slip to a debut 51-43 loss in Bucharest.
"In my opinion, we have very good team.
"It is hard because the U18 teams are very good - there are a lot of teams to respect and also many players to respect.
"Some teams like France, Spain and Russia have a long history in Division A and they are our biggest rivals."
Away from the court, Chiabov likes to watch as much basketball as possible and while drawing strength and respect from the current crop of Croatian national team stars, it's an NBA veteran who she still looks up to.
"I love Kevin Garnett since his passion is amazing and also inspiring," insisted Chiabov.
"But, I got into basketball because I wanted to be just like my brother and that is why I started playing it.
"In the NBA I like the Boston Celtics and I also like Real Madrid in the Euroleague.
"I don't have a lot of free time so I don't follow other sports that much but I do like watching handball and football too."
For now though, Chiabov is going to concentrate on matters in Bucharest by racking up a first victory and of course, the small matter of hoping Croatia makes their nation proud once again in the British capital.