By Yarone Arbel
The last few years haven't brought a lot of joy to Slovenian basketball.
Olimpija Ljubljana isn't a dominating force as in past years, the national team didn't turn in great results and worst of all the future didn't seem bright.
Two youth national teams of Slovenia were relegated to Division B in 2007, and even while playing the top division the results were far from satisfying.
Half of the players on the team here in Poland were born in the 1970s, and that says a thing or two about the changing, or not changing, face of Slovenian basketball.
|Serbia Head Coach Dusan Ivkovic coached Zdovc on one of the best teams in EuroBasket history.|
Those who follow the sport in Slovenia were talking about great difficulties to get players into the world of basketball.
The years ahead were covered with clouds.
The night of September 18th 2009 could be the one to clear the skies and bring a new dawn for basketball in the central European country.
Making it to the Semi-Finals of EuroBasket for the first time in the history of the country put big smiles on the faces of the Slovenians, and especially on the face of Slovenian basketball coach Jure Zdovc.
When Slovenia's national team started to play in EuroBasket in 1993 Zdovc was the big star.
Now he's the boss of the bench in his second career.
He knows how important that game was for the sport in his country.
"There are many temptations nowadays for kids and it's not easy to bring them out to play the game," he tells eurobasket2009.org.
"Those who do leave the computer are courted by many other sports other than basketball, so it's very difficult to get the kids involved in the game.
"We have very good coaches in Slovenia and the basis to raise new talents, but we need to get the kids in the game, and I really hope this thing we made here will make a good change."
The line-up one can assemble from the players Slovenia miss here due to injuries would be one of the most talented in the entire championship.
Sani Becirovic and Beno Udrih didn't make the team due to injuries.
The last one could have been playing for the team by now as he's supposed to be healed, but wasn't included in the
|Matjaz Smodis is in Poland but has spent most of his time on the Slovenian bench due to injury.|
Coach Zdovc could surely have used him, since Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns is carrying a knee injury and didn't play in the last three games of the team here.
Big guy Matjaz Smodis is also not fit and played a total of 13 minutes in the entire competition.
This makes the success of Coach Zdovc and his team even more impressive.
Slovenia didn't only make it to the top four. They have done that despite missing five top level players. Not many teams would have been able to do that.
"It's almost a miracle we're in the Semi-Finals considering all the absences we have," he shares.
"If we can go this far without so many important players obviously it says a lot of good things on Slovenian basketball."
The walls and cabins in the Zdovc home are probably covered with medals and trophies from his playing career.
He was one of the best playmakers in European Basketball in the late 80's and during the 90's and was known for his great skills on defense.
Zdovc played for top clubs as Olimpija Ljubljana, Virtus Bologna and Limoges who won a historical Euroleague title for French basketball in 1993 under the hands and mind of Zdovc at the playmaking spot.
Yet his biggest achievements were with the national team.
Three magical years in which he was a member of one of the great teams in the history of basketball earned him glory.
Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac, Predrag Danilovic, Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and Zarko Paspalj were sharing the ball with Zdovc on that team.
Together they have won EuroBasket 1989 and 1991 for Yugoslavia in addition to the 1990 World Championship.
The experience from those years is something Zdovc carries with him and can share with his players now in 2009.
"Before we came here I said that we should try to get a medal," he shares, "and many people didn't take me seriously.
"But from my playing years I know that players must always have a big goal in front of them, so they have something to chase.
"It's a key thing to keep them motivated all the time."
When Zdovc will stand near the Slovenian bench he will look at the other side and see a very familiar face.
At the age of 65, coach Dusan Ivkovic of Serbia will go against his former player Zdovc.
Ivkovic is a legendary coach in European basketball and one of the reasons for that is the fact he was the bench boss of that magical Yugoslavian national team Zdovc played on.
Obviously his influence of Zdovc was massive.
"Coach Ivkovic is the reason that I'm here, so of course it's a big honor for me to coach against him," tells Zdovc.
"He believed in me and gave me a chance all those years, and this is a very important thing I learned from him.
"That's also what I'm trying to pass to my players - how much I believe in that."
With that belief Slovenia will march on the court tonight and try to make history for the second night in a row.