|Marton Fodor says that Szolnoki Olaj qualifying to the EuroChallenge Quarter-Finals is a big achievement not only for the club but also for Hungarian basketball|
By Jeff Taylor
There wasn't much room for error in the Last 16 of the EuroChallenge for any of the teams in Group J, which is why Szolnoki Olaj's players are relieved to still be alive in the competition.
All four sides finished with three wins and three defeats, so a tie-breaker had to be used and it was Elan Chalon and Szolnoki who ended up in first and second ahead of Telekom Baskets Bonn and Okapi Aalstar.
Szolnoki didn't know if they would make it to the Quarter-Finals until the final buzzer of their game against Telekom Baskets Bonn on 28 February though, because the German team cut what had been a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to just two.
Bonn had a shot to win at the death but Benas Veikalas' attempt from three-point land was off target.
"In Belgium, we had a last-second shot and didn't make it so we needed to get some luck back," Szolnoki's Hungary international guard Marton Fodor told Basketball World News.
The week before, Szolnoki had also come from behind and had an opportunity to go in front with 10 seconds left in the contest but Akos Horvath missed from behind the arc and Okapi won, 86-84.
The last play against Bonn seemed to go in slow motion for Fodor and his teammates.
"I remember when the ball was in the air," Fodor said, "we were shaking because we wanted to make the Last 16, and we had made some mistakes and they came back and had a chance at the end.
"But it's good that he didn't make it."
Sometimes a club is lucky, and sometimes not.
Most important for Szolnoki is that they have worked hard all season long.
Peter Por's side had to dig deep in the Qualifying Round just to reach the EuroChallenge.
They lost the first leg at Tampereen Pyrintö in Finland, 77-69, but won the return game in Hungary, 69-57, to progress to the Regular Season with a four-point triumph on aggregate.
"In the beginning," Fodor said, "we didn't have our whole team, yet.
"We changed a couple of players and guys also came back from the national team very upset.
"We were in a bad mood because we didn't make it to the European Championship."
Hungary had attempted to reach the 24-team EuroBasket in Lithuania but finished third behind Finland and Portugal in the Additional Qualifying Round.
"After that, everything was okay," Fodor said.
"No one can say that we don't deserve it.
"We've played really hard and well on our home court, and we've played two years in the EuroChallenge and lost only once at home."
Szolnoki is not a place where opponents want to go needing a win because in the last couple of seasons, the Hungarian outfit is 11-1 at home in the EuroChallenge.
The only defeat came early in this campaign against Keravnos.
|Szolnoki had to make do for about a month without their top rebounder, Hungary international Marton Bader|
"It's a big result (getting to the Quarter-Finals) for the club and the country also, because Hungarian basketball isn't that good at the moment," Fodor said.
"Now we need every small thing and this is the sort of thing that helps us."
The former, a point guard, leads the team in scoring and assists at 16.9 points and 4.4 helpers per game.
Bader, a center, is averaging 9.9 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds.
This is not a two-man team, though.
"Of course, it's Obie's second year with us," Fodor said.
"He's a good player, but we have a lot of good players and I think a lot of players can help from the bench like me, so, someone always has to step up.
"Obie's a good player, though."
In any European competition, a team has to have depth or it will suffer.
"We've got eight, nine players," Fodor said.
"Bader was out for one month with an injury and we won a lot of games in a row to make the second round of the EuroChallenge, so others had to come in."
EUROPE A HAPPY HUNTING GROUND
Playing in Europe does seem to bring the best out of Szolnoki.
"In Hungary, I think as a team, we can play better but in the EuroChallenge, we always play well together," Fodor said.
"I think the Hungarian Championship rhythm is different to the EuroChallenge.
"This helps us, and maybe it's good for us in the summers (with the national team), too, to learn how to play in more important games."
Next up for Szolnoki is BK Ventspils in the EuroChallenge.
The winner of the best-of-three series will advance to the Final Four.
Neither club was expected to go all the way before the campaign but each now has a chance to do something special.
"We had some good results in the first and second round," Fodor said.
"Everyone says it was a surprise, but we worked for it.
"We don't want to give up on our dream, so I think we have a chance to make the Final Four.
"They (Ventspils) have a good chance because they start at home on Tuesday, but our aim is to surprise them and then play here.
"We're dangerous on our home court because we've beaten a lot of good teams here.
"When opponents come here, there have been some bigger teams like Chalon, we've beaten them.
"It's going to be a tough series, but I think we'll have a good chance."