By Yarone Arbel
Bostjan Nachbar is full of optimism after helping Slovenia win a tough opener at EuroBasket 2005 over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The 2.07m forward and his team-mates are trying to reach the quarter-final round for the first time, and the 74-65 Group C triumph in Belgrade over their neighbours was an excellent start, especially as they twice trailed by six points in the third quarter but gritted their teeth and hit back for victory.
"We are playing for them (the fans)," Nachbar said to EuroBasket 2005.com.
"Yesterday, in the game against Bosnia-Herzegovina, they gave us big support.
"We were down by six points in the third quarter, and they helped us back in the game."
Slovenia lost guard Beno Udrih of the San Antonio Spurs in the build-up to the EuroBasket, but their squad has remained strong and that was evident against Bosnia-Herzegovina as coach Ales Pipan used 10 players.
"We have a lot of young guys who are playing for the first time, and they bring lots of energy to the game," Nachbar said.
"The fans also give us a lot of energy and pushed us forward."
The national side is under a lot of pressure to reach the last eight, something they should have done at EuroBasket 2003 when they blew a huge lead against Israel in the elimination round.
With Nachbar, Radislav Nesterovic and Primoz Brezec all in the NBA now, there is a feeling that this Slovenian team has enough star power to go a long way.
|Bostjan Nachbar |
They also boast the terrific guards Jaka Lakovic and Sani Becirovic, although the latter was not at his best against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Nachbar, who had 16 points and three rebounds, says the team felt comfortable in Belgrade.
"It feels like we are playing at home," he said. "They (fans) travel a long way, and we just try to give back to them whatever we can.
Serbia & Montenegro coach Zeljko Obradovic expressed incredulity in his press conference that fans had not thrown their full backing behind his team in their 89-70 loss to Spain in Novi Sad.
"We are the ones that will have to make the difference on the floor, but the fans give us a lot of support," Nachbar said, before addressing the issue of expectations.
"People always say we need to be in the top five, but there are 12 teams that can take a medal and it's not easy.
Belgrade is a long way from New Orleans, where Nachbar plays professionally with the NBA's Hornets.
He has a home in the city, and was one of the fortunate ones as Hurricane Katrina does not appear to have done serious damage to his house.
Nachbar says moving to the famous Louisiana city last season was a change he had welcomed since he had spent so many minutes on the bench with his previous club, the Houston Rockets.
After being traded to the Hornets, Nachbar averaged 8.1 points in 20.7 minutes per contest.
That convinced New Orleans to sign the player to a three-year deal that will keep him in the NBA at least until 2008.
Nachbar, who averaged 11.8 points and three rebounds per game in his first EuroBasket two years ago in Sweden, says it is fun to return to Europe.
"The fans in the NBA are more polite, and it's a different mentality, and I do miss the European style sometimes," he said.
"But the NBA is still the best league in the world, and when I was in Houston I saw what it's like at play-off time, and then the NBA fans get very loud as well."
Nachbar has had to work very hard the past three years to adapt him game to the NBA, but he has found on his return that he needed to adjust his game to the style he grew up with.
It was difficult turning the clock back.
"Some players need a while to get used to the game in the NBA, and I had to go through the same thing, but now I think I'm much more ready for that," he said.
"Going back to the European style wasn't easy for me.
"Some of the rules are different here, the game itself is different, because the court is smaller and the players can stand closer in defence.
"This is part of the reason why the USA team is struggling against European national teams in recent years.
"I put a lot of time in adjusting back to European style, and there are still things I need to correct, but in every game it gets better for me."
Slovenia will hope that continues to be the case.