Langer: Austrian Hoops Have Potential
Austria's U18 national team side has fans in the Alpine nation believing they could possibly make the jump to Division A at the U18 European Championship Men - and maybe even higher goals further down the road.
Coach Robert Langer knows that his Division B team is still facing an uphill battle to return to the top flight at the U18 level for the first time since 1986.
They still have to face Slovenia and Sweden in the Qualifying Round for 1st to 8th Place after losing to the Czech Republic in Tuesday's final game of the Preliminary Round Group A, which carries over.
"There is definitely a small tear in our eyes after losing to the Czechs. We knew it was basically the first play-off game and we would have liked to start with a victory. We had a chance in the final minute. It's too bad. But we did everything we could. The Czechs are a good team," Langer told fibaeurope.com on the team's off-day on Wednesday.
The Austrians gave up a three-pointer and committed an unsportsmanlike foul in the final 40 seconds in losing 77-73.
But Langer's young men had shown resilience in the closing stages of previous games at the U18 Division B tournament in Debrecen, Hungary. They pulled away from Netherlands in the final two minutes. Austria also came back from a 10-point third quarter deficit while holding off Montenegro late.
Austria, of course, are hardly known for their basketball prowess. The land of some of the greatest alpine skiers has appeared at just six EuroBasket Men, finishing 12th of 12 teams in their most recent appearance in 1977.
But that could be in the process of changing with the help of Langer and a long-term program by the Austrian Basketball Federation.
In 2001, the Austrians sat down and decided to work on the development of the hoops youth in their nation, determining that early support in all areas was needed to produce top-level talent.
"We are getting better and better at this. Every year we are adding a bit more in the surroundings of the teams. Recently we have added sports psychologists. And there are other plans in the works as well."
Still, there is plenty of time before people in the basketball world will be forced to talk about Austria.
"Our goal is to first become a nation that can get to the A group and then have at least a chance to stay there. Then we would look at the next step. But we are still missing many steps to establishing ourselves in the A group."
The first fruits of that hard work are already being seen in Langer's current U18 group.
In the summer of 2006, Langer's players lost to Georgia in the semi-finals of the U16 European Championship Men Division B and finished fourth. Last year the group moved onto the U18 level and beat the Czechs and Denmark in finishing 13th of 20 teams.
Leading the way for Langer have been point guard Moritz Lanegger, who is averaging 19.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.8 steals a game; and power forward Rasid Mahalbasic, who has collected 13.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists a contest.
But a definite help for Langer's group is its size as five players stand at least 2.02m tall.
"We have a lot of bigs and there is a lot of potential with this team. We have some good outside shooters and we have some nice, athletic guards. There is a lot of potential for the future with this group," the coach said.
Both Lanegger and Mahalbasic have been invited to new Austria senior national team coach Nedeljko Asceric's training camp for Austria's preparations for the September qualifiers for the 2009 EuroBasket Division B against Denmark, Netherlands, Montenegro and Iceland.
"Both players will be there and it will be Asceric's final decision if they make the team, depending also on the health of the veterans," said Langer.
The U18 coach also said the 18-year-old Lanegger could land at a team outside of Austria - possibly even next season
Earning promotion to Division A, of course, would be a sensation. But that is still a very, very long way from happening. Even if Austria make the semi-finals - the top two teams from the two final groups advance - likely waiting for them would be Poland and Slovak Republic.
Yet Langer remained realistic and optimistic: "If we don't make Division A, it will not be the end of the world. It would be wondering and a big success. But we have to be patient and it will work out in the end."