If Hungary are going to be among the elite of women's basketball in the coming years and continue to play at EuroBaskets, it will depend on the players in the youth teams of today.
With that in mind, this is going to be a very busy and interesting summer for Hungary's U20 side.
Zeljko Djokic, who has just signed a new three-year extension at MiZo Pecs and will now serve as head coach, is in charge of Hungary's Young Women's team.
The 14 players he is working with are guards Nora Rujak, Dorottya Tamis, Mirjam Sipos, Alexandra Theodoran and Dominika Gergely, forwards Nikolett Sarok, Reka Balint, Gyorgyi Ori, Lilla Horvath, Viki Bajnoczi and Fanny Feher, and centers Emese Kovalcsik, Dorottya Gyori and Orsolya Szecsi.
Djokic, who gained his FIBA Europe Coaching Certificate last year, gave this interview to Basketball World News for FIBA Europe.
Zeljko, how many of the players in the under-20 team have been in the national teams of Hungary before, and are there any players that have made a lot of progress this past season that will have additional confidence going into the summer?
|Tijana Krivacevic already has lots of experience from EuroBasket Women and the EuroLeague Women Final Four but will not be able to help the U20 squad this summer|
Zeljko Djokic: This U20 team of Hungary is made up of players who were born in 1990 and '91. Last year, the Hungarian U20 team took seventh place in the European Championship Division B, and the U18 team managed to win first place in Division B, so they returned to Division A. The current team consists of players who have participated in those two competitions last year, plus one player of '92 that was missed from the list of U18 selections. But unfortunately, today's U20 team cannot count on the two most valuable players from these two born ages - Tijana Krivacevic ('90) - MKB Sopron) and (Krisztina Raksanyi ('91) - Mizo Pecs). Tijana will play for the Hungarian senior team and therefore she's not in a position to help the U20 team. Krisztina has a problem with a knee injury and her doctors have recommended strict standstill this summer. Also, the team will miss Bernadett Balla, one of the main cogs in the Hungarian U20 selection, because of wrist surgery. In any case, I don't want to spend a lot of time talking about those that are not with us, but of the other talented players in this team. We started our preparations on June 7 with 14 players. Given that the team will not have players who can decide a game as standout individuals, our main weapon will be the team play in defense and offense.
What about the preparations? Are they going well?
Zeljko Djokic: I would like to thank the Hungarian federation but most of all the people from the Basketball Club Györ, which have allowed us the maximum requirements for hard work and successful preparation.
During the first meeting we set ourselves two goals. The first is that each player, after the preparations and the European Championship, returns to her club as a much improved player.
Second is that we want to play in the final of the European Championship and to try and return to Division A. Of course it will depend not just on us. There are a lot of high-quality teams, but we are trying to have a very good program of practices in which we do all segments, from physical conditioning to tactical preparations. But, the most important thing is building a good team spirit, and we spend almost all of our time making this happen. We will also play a few friendly games with stronger teams than us like, for example, Serbia, Slovakia, and Hungary's senior national team.
Do you get the feeling, judging from the talent you have at youth level, that the future of Hungarian women's basketball is promising?
Zeljko Djokic: I can say that level of Hungarian basketball is growing up. This year, we have a chance to come back to Division A of the European Championships in two ages, U16 and U20. The U16 team is full of very talented players. The U18 team is also very talented with girls that will be appear in Division A and the games they will play certainly will be a great experience for them to make progress in their careers. Remembering that the most talented player of the U20 age, Tijana Krivacevic, is already included in the senior team, I see a beautiful future for Hungarian women's basketball. If the team that I lead can manage to reach Division A, it will mean that next year all of the Hungarian youth teams will play at the highest level of European competitions.
You mentioned that you will face some tough teams. Can you expand on that?
|Nóra Ruják (right) is a player that Djokic knows very well from MiZo Pécs|
Zeljko Djokic: We will be able to play in the same group with the Czech Republic, which had in the past two years at the U18 European Championship Division A brilliant results with the same age group that they will play now. One even has a medal. There is also a very strong Belgian team. Of course, there is (FYR of) Macedonia, who will certainly have the support of a very loud audience that knows basketball very well and lives for their nation's success. We will also be careful and prepare well, thoroughly for the UK that through this competition certainly selects its team for the Olympic Games. About the teams in the other groups, I don't want to say too much because we will think about them when we see our position after the first round, but it seems to be slightly weaker than ours.
What about you, Zeljko. How is coaching the U20 team different from working with a club?
Zeljko Djokic: For me it is not so different. Once again, I cooperate with my great friend and colleague, Akos Fuzy, with whom I worked the last two years at Mizo Pecs. It's just that now, we have switched positions because I am the (Hungary U20) head coach, and he is the assistant. But we are so well coordinated in the business, so I think that the girls enjoy each training session. Of course for all coaches, you always would like to have a few more training sessions, and so it is with me. In any case, we are very satisfied with the commitment of the players and I think we are on the right path to achieving our goals.
How do you feel about your contract extension?
Zeljko Djokic: I'm of course very happy that I became the first coach of such great club as Mizo Pecs. I signed a contract with the club for three years, and the first year we set ourselves the goal of building a new image, as well as forcing players from our own younger categories, with which I've worked for many years. I think that next year, we will have one of the youngest teams in the EuroLeague with an average age of 22. Of course, this does not mean that we will not be ambitious, and hungry for victories, especially on our home court where our fans will support us. I think they are the best in Europe. They will certainly be our sixth and most experienced player.