It is not an exaggeration to say that the Czech Republic have been a revelation so far in the European Championship for Women. Along with Spain, the Czechs are so far undefeated in the tournament. They have not only won games, but done so in style, playing the game at breakneck speed and simply blowing their opponents off the court with their strength and depth.
Forward Zuzana Klimesova seems to be just as surprised as any by how well her team is doing. Here is what she had to say on the Czechs‘ performance so far and what we can expect from the future.
Are you surprised by how well your team is playing in the tournament?
Klimesova: Well, I definitely expected us to be strong, but I don’t think anybody expected that we were gonna come out and be as ready as we were during the first 5 games. We worked hard and that was in our favour.
This is my first time in the national team. I think that this year we have a really good group together. The girls have played together for a long time so they are much more used to each other. I’m as surprised as anybody by how well we are playing, but it feels excellent.
How are you finding your first European Championship?
Klimesova: I love it. It is a lot of fun to play against teams that have so much talent. There are good teams and you have to come out and play well otherwise the game is gonna go the other way.
You graduated from university in the USA in 2002, was there a big adjustment for you when you came back to Europe?
Klimesova: Well, it is a different kind of basketball. In the USA it’s a little more one-one-one. People there are stronger because they do much more lifting, so it’s a little more physical. Here I would say people still set a lot of screens, play together, rely on good passing. Each one has good things and bad things.
Did your experience with A.O. Astir Exarchion (GRE) in the FIBA Europe Cup Women give you some idea of what to expect here?
Klimesova: It was different because it was the first time in Europe but I think it helped me a little bit to have an idea. We played in Israel and Serbia and Montenegro. So I knew what to expect from the Serb and Israeli teams. So far it has worked out.
The signature of your team is versatility and all your players have very complete games. Is that how you were brought up to play basketball?
Klimesova: I actually moved out of the Czech Republic when I was 13 so I grew up playing German basketball. Then I went to the USA when I was 17 so I don’t know too much about Czech basketball. But I do know I really like it. Just like you said we have a lot of people who can play inside and outside. If you look at the score at the end, its always somebody else scoring and we have so many players in double digits and different players stepping up in each game. I think it makes us really difficult to guard because you never know who will be the one.
|Klimesova (no.14) collects a loose ball against Israel|
Considering you moved away, do you feel Czech and why did you decide to play for the national team?
Klimesova: I absolutely feel Czech! I have always been very proud of my heritage and stood by it. I still have grandparents there watching on television. They got the satellite just so they can see. Actually my parents are in Germany and my brother is in the USA but the rest of my family is in Prague and we always go there for the summer. I always wanted to play for the national team so this is like a dream come true. The fact that we are winning makes it even better.
How far can your team go in the championship?
Klimesova: Well we have to see. Firstly we have to absolutely win the next game. We were first in the group but we could still end up playing for 5th place. We really need to come out on Friday and just take it from there.
What do you know about your opponents Belgium?
Klimesova: I know Ann Wauters, but that’s pretty much it. I saw her play in the WNBA but outside of that I don’t know much.
One of your top players Kamila Vodickova is not playing here due to injury, how does that effect the team?
Klimesova: She is an excellent player and she was supposed to be here but unfortunately she injured her ankle about 2 weeks before we came here. She has to sit out about 6 weeks so she’s at home rehabbing and getting ready for her season in Russia. She’s a really, really good player and with her we would probably have been unbeatable.
Sometimes it is better for teams when a star is at home because it creates more of a team environment.
Klimesova: That is true and I think that we have come together really well. I think that Lucie Blahuskova is doing a great job and she is unstoppable. We have a great captain in Hana Machova. She is a great leader and brings loads of energy so when the team is feeling weak she always brings us back together. If you look at our starting 5 they are all excellent players, great point guard (Romana Hamzova), great rebounder in Ivana Vecerova so its kind of easy to come off the bench. When you watch you get all the energy from them and you just kind of continue what they start.
Did you know any of the players before you joined the team?
Klimesova: I knew Marketa Mokrosova and Michaela Pavlickova from the University Games in Mallorca and China. Apart from that I didn’t know anybody and they didn’t know me. But we get on really well and they took me in right away. I never felt like I was an outsider.