By Adrian Popa
|For someone with the resumé of Arkhipova Von Kalmanovich, being out of the medal race is almost inconceivable. The Russia Head Coach though does not look for excuses and focuses on the big picture |
For a born winner, losing is tough. And it's even harder, when you have entered a competition with high expectations.
But the former Russian star Anna Arkhipova Fon Kalmanovich, now coaching the U18 national team at the European Championship, is ready to see her team's predicament in a different light.
She was a part of many winning teams during her playing career, she knows how success tastes like and she knows what it takes to achieve it.
Her successful journey on the basketball courts started with medals in the European junior competitions, earned at the time the big Soviet Union was falling apart both politically and in sport.
Towards the end of her career, she led Russia to a bronze medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004, after having been crowned EuroBasket Women champion and EuroLeague Women champion.
Now, as a coach, she's leading a generation of players born during the hard times of the early 90's. And this is not at all a walk in the park.
"The players from my generation were different. These young girls who I'm working with nowadays were all born in the time our country was broke, and they have a lack of patriotism.
"Don't get me wrong. They fight hard on the court, they are a team, and many of them will have a career in basketball. But that feeling about playing for your country is not so strong like in the old times," Arkhipova Fon Kalmanovich explains.
Obviously, as Russia are playing to avoid relegation at the U18 European Championship Women, they have underachieved this time.
She knows this generation very well, after leading them to 4th place at the U16 European Championship Women in 2009.
"That time I thought it was a bad result. I can see now that it was a really good one," the coach says with a bitter smile on her face.
"I have many questions for my players. I mean, missing 14 free throws in one game, finishing 1-for-15 from the three-point line...
"This is not the level for a European Championship and this is not the level for Russia.
"I think even without hands they could have shot the ball better," she grins.
All the stats she mentioned were from that first game against Romania, the one that started all the trouble.
"That loss, in front of one of the outsiders of the competition, costed us more that we could imagine. After that, came the games with Turkey, Sweden... You know how it is, once you start losing...," she says.
Akhripova hardly finds the words when she is talking about losing efforts, and you can feel that if she was 18 again she would teach the opponents a lesson.
After all, the situation was not at all in her favour at this tournament.
Two of her best players joined the preparations only in early August.
They were flying home from the other side of the world, from Chile, where they represented Russia at the U19 World Championship.
Before the first game in Oradea one of the team's best players, Alina Zamaraeva, suffered a back injury and couldn't play against Romania."
She could barely sit down or stand up. It was terrible," the coach explains.
Zamaraeva tried to help the team after that, but she's averaging 4.5 points in 18 minutes of playing time.
But Anna Arkhipova Fon Kalmanovich isn't looking for excuses.
Winning is good, but she also has another mission here, to transform these girls into future solid basketball players.
"I am ready to give everything for my players. My heart, my soul, my mind. Everything. The question is, if they want to take it," said the former star.
"I am ready to die on the court for them because I love them. I am not friend with them, because I am here to teach them and probably now they think that I am a bad coach. But I hope one day they will thank me," she concludes.
When you lose, don't lose the lesson, Dalai Lama once said. For Anna Arkhipova Fon Kalmanovich and -she hopes- for her players too, this tournament will be used just like this.
Just as another lesson.
The experience she accumulates working with young talents, she might also at Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje where, amid competeting at the top level in Euroleague Women, she also wants to nurture promising players.
Steve Costalas, the club's General Manager, is also in Oradea with her, as Russia Team manager.
Costalas is an expert when it comes to spotting talent.
"I have seen a lot of good players here," he says.
"But what is disturbing for me, is that I don't see around Europe a lot of the big clubs investing in the youth department.
"Instead they prefer to buy players already in their prime and only few of them are giving a real chance to the young players," Costalas explains.
"Italy has only two players at a EuroLeague Women club, Spain nobody. We have, for example, eight players belonging to EuroLeague Women teams.
"And Ksenia Tikhonenko for sure next year will be on full time basis with our first team," he adds.