Hernandez Enjoying Unlikely Run With Wisla

17 March 2010
By Jeff Taylor

José Ignacio Hernández is having to pinch himself to know that it's true.

Yes, the veteran basketball coach is for the second year in a row going to lead a side at the EuroLeague Women Final Four.

One year ago, the Spaniard was at the helm of Halcon Avenida in Salamanca, Spain, a side that made a surprising run to the title game before falling to heavy favorites Spartak Moscow Region.

Now, he has engineered maybe the biggest surprise in the history of the competition by guiding Wisla Can-Pack Krakow to within two wins of a European title.

"Without a doubt, I have lived once again another magical, unforgettable moment," he said.

"Therefore, to be among the four best teams of Europe is something that I could never have imagined.

"Thus, it is a moment to celebrate and above all, to enjoy."

The Wisla Can-Pack Krakow story of 2009-2010 is such a good one that it needs to be told over and over again.

It's a tale about a club that dared to be ambitious.

Wisla wanted to be the best in Poland, and to find glory in Europe.

They went to the basketball hotbed of Spain and convinced Hernández  he could help them achieve great things.

A month after the EuroLeague Women Final Four, the coach made the unexpected announcement he was leaving for Poland.

"I have received a very important offer from a foreign club, a club that wants to be big in Europe and that is counting on me to lead their project," he said at the time.

"This opportunity could be unique and therefore, it's difficult to say no to it ..."

The 40-year-old agreed to take on the challenge and good things started to happen.

After Hernández coached Spain to a gold medal at the U16 European Championship in Naples, Italy, he and fellow Spaniard Jorge Aragones began to prepare Wisla for the rigors of the Polish top flight, and the EuroCup Women.

When former champions CSKA Moscow pulled out of the EuroLeague Women because of financial problems, FIBA Europe invited Wisla to take their place and the Polish team made the most of the opportunity.

Wisla won nine of its 10 games to finish top of Group B ahead of Hernández 's former club, Avenida.

Hernández  was finding so much success that Spain's basketball federation decided to appoint him coach of the senior team that will compete at the 2010 FIBA World Championship for Women in the Czech Republic.

At every turn for Hernández and Wisla, good things happened.

The Poles used their home-court advantage to win two of their three EuroLeague Women Eighth-Finals Play-off games against MiZo Pecs.

They then prevailed in two of their three contests against Frisco Sika Brno to reach the Final Four.

Immediately after the 78-73 victory in Game 3 against former champions Brno, Wisla's players and fans celebrated as if they had made it to heaven.

Israeli guard Liron Cohen spoke into a megaphone to hundreds of red-clad Wisla supporters, Poland international Ewelina Kobryn took a swig of champagne and EuroLeague Women All-Star Marta Fernandez hugged everyone in sight.

Cohen was so swept up in the moment that she grabbed one of the burning red flares and walked around the court, filling the arena with smoke.

It got even better for Hernández  and Fernandez, who is also Spanish.

The Final Four was awarded to Valencia, which means the two will be able to experience the event in front of their family and friends.

Never mind the wins and losses and two straight Final Four trips.

Hernández  knows that he has experienced something even more special.

He has felt an unbridled passion that two cities have for women's basketball, first Salamanca and now Krakow.

"If in Salamanca we had the support of the ‘blue tide', here," Hernández  said, "has been key the endorsement of the ‘red tide'.

"It is a type of very different support, with less pressure directed at the opponents and the referees, but with a spectacular color and a great quantity of songs.

"Seeing the old building (Hala Wisla) of Reymonta Street packed with fans an hour before the start of the game would give goose bumps to anyone."

There will be plenty of those when Hernández watches his team run onto the court at La Fonteta to face Ros Casares on April 9.

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