by Paul Nilsen
When the dust settles on EuroBasket 2009, the first line in the history books will state how Pau Gasol predictably got the MVP award on his way to landing gold for the overwhelming pre-tournament favourites Spain.
What it won't show is how Spain took the chequered flag in a race for championship glory that was at times, a pretty bumpy one. They tore up the script outlining cruise control from pole position and instead, stalled badly on the starting line in Warsaw before eventually producing an ultimately riveting and spectacular finish to the pinnacle of the podium.
Their destiny was fulfilled with a first ever Eurobasket gold and they not only thrilled us down the stretch but handed us an unexpected opportunity to rubberneck their ‘mini crisis' after that dreadful start.
Fascinating as their journey was and as brilliant they played on the final weekend, Pau and Co didn't provide the only great memories from EuroBasket 2009:
The Jaw Dropper
I admit to being left open mouthed in awe when a group of cheerleaders from Lithuania threw up some dunks using a mini trampoline inside the Spodek Arena. That in itself was pretty cool but astonishingly they did it in thigh length boots and tiny hot-pants. Consequently it was arguably the best bit of action by any Lithuanians on a court in Poland.
Team Of The Tournament
|Milos Teodosic and his fellow young Serbians certainly surprised everybody in Poland|
Credit to Spain obviously and a quick name check for Germany too for surpassing expectations but this one is a complete no-brainer for me. Two years ago at EuroBasket 2007, Serbia left the tournament prematurely with no wins to their name. Two years later and with a list of stellar absentees as long as the arms of (I might point out their sole NBA man) Nened Krstic, they have emerged with a silver medal as the youngest team in the tournament - average age a mere 22.4 years. I predicted them to finish in the quarters and indeed originally thought getting out of the ‘Group Of Death' would be an accomplishment but this bunch of guys have now have proven themselves beyond doubt at this level. Great fundamentals, chemistry, always happy to do the dirty work when necessary, they exceeded expectations and were a joy to watch. With the Coach of the tournament in the wily Ivkovic, their silver medal was well deserved and they will no doubt be big challengers again in the forthcoming major tournaments.
Okay so you think I am a little weird for having a favourite and yes I know they rarely change but I still absolutely love that first thirty seconds or so of the Russian anthem. It's rousing music apt for a superhero movie and while on that particular subject, Blatt and his players did pretty well without some heroes of their own in the absent Kirlenko, Khryapa and Holden.
Baltic State duo Lithuania and Latvia can share this moniker. In the case of Latvia it was particularly disappointing to see the previously impeccable Biedrins have such an ineffective tournament.
The Hot Hand
I previously mentioned Serbian guard Milos Teodosic being on the fringes of the MVP race during the quarter-finals stage and he subsequently produced a 32 point master-class in the semi-finals against Slovenia that will live long in the memory. A truly wonderful display from his dagger triples, composure under pressure when finishing at the hoop and from the line - all in the context of a difficult last season at Olympiakos. Was thrilled to see him make the Tournament team and I must also mention the many super displays of Erazem Lorbek too - what a player.
NBA star Allen Iverson was inside the Spodek and gave something of a royal wave to everyone while I am still trying to convince my girlfriend that coming to Poland to watch Eurobasket was not an elaborate ploy just to get in the same building as another EuroBasket V.I.P - the beautiful Mrs Parker, aka Desperate Housewife, Eva Longoria.
|Slovenian fans travelled in huge numbers to support their team|
Fans make tournaments special and I thought the fans of Slovenia, Lithuania and greece were particularly great. The Lithuanians were noisy and in great numbers from start to finish including the final stage when their team was sadly absent while the Greeks kept everyone going during the one sided final with their relentless support. The Slovenians meanwhile were sensational in taking up almost three sides of the Arena in Warsaw. At one point I had to double check I wasn't in Ljubljana. Also on the topic of fans, it was nice to see the Spanish players take the time to actually climb in amongst the Spanish supporters to share their special moment during the celebrations.
|Sofoklis "Baby Shaq" Schortsanitis put aside the last difficult years to prove that he can be a dominant force under the Basket|
Back with a vengeance, Greek powerhouse Sofoklis Schortsanitis snapped a metal chain on the back of the basket stand with a ferocious dunk against Germany. Then in the semi-final with Spain, he charged into two Spanish defenders on his way to the hoop so aggressively that some of the photographers crouching on the floor were left diving for cover just in case this runaway train didn't stop. Oh and aside from that, he also inspired Greece to the last place on the podium. Stirring stuff from a player who is always fascinating to watch.
Hall Of Fame
While all eyes were fixed on the players of today, it was great to see some of the true masters of yesteryear inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame.
Bad Luck and Even Worse Luck
Tony Parker and Co drawing Spain as early as the quarter finals due to the surprise poor form of the Spanish was bad luck for the French. They weren't the only ones. Languishing in Division B going nowhere fast and then in double quick time, achieving promotion to Division A before booking a first ever place at Eurobasket, Great Britain then drew Spain, Serbia and Slovenia. Yes, three of the eventual semi-finalists. Not good luck and then just before the big tip-off, the soul of the team, Luol Deng withdrew. A tough initiation for the debutantes and believe me, it is difficult enough being a basketball fan in the UK without having fate kick you where it really hurts. Not once, but twice.
His name would be far too cruel to mention but you have to love the player who apparently complained vigorously about a lack of reliable electricity in Poland. That was until someone kindly pointed out that he had to put his hotel room key into the socket near the door to make the lights and television work. These pampered basketball stars, don't you just love them?
Well done to everybody involved on court and behind the scenes - roll on EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania.