|Veteran point guard Veronika Bortelová creates plenty of open looks for her teammates which translates into 3.9 assists per game|
By Mark Woods
It's been a long and winding road that the players of all eight remaining teams have taken to the final weekend of EuroBasket Women.
Months of anticipation. Weeks of preparation. Then 15 days of competition. And now, come Sunday night, the end of another summer as the sisters in arms go their separate ways for another year.
The moments of joy, the victories and even the brave defeats can make every day of hard work worthwhile, confirms Czech Republic guard Veronika Bortelova. Claiming the bronze medal with victory in the third place play-off against France would be a small compensation for the tearful disappointment of losing out to Russia in the semi-finals. However she admits there is some relief that the journey, for 2011 at least, is nearing its last stop.
"Me, my team-mates, we're getting crazy," she laughs. "Being together for this long, seeing the same people, being in a hotel, going from there to the gym, back to the hotel, to the restaurant, it sends you a bit crazy. It's so long. It's too long. So one more day, hopefully a successful day, and it's over."
The trick, she says, is to break up the routine. Even the tightest families need their time apart. Some players have taken a personal interest in lightening the mood. "Ilona Burgova is a big joker," Bortelova reveals. "Romana Hejdova as well." No details, though. But everyone has their own way to cope with the situation.
"Some people sleep," she adds. "Some watch movies. Some go shopping. If there's not a game, we'll do rehab. We spent a lot of time in that. Someone always has a movie on. Or you'll be on Skype or spending time with parents of friends. We have a lot of people coming in this weekend."
A year after reaching the final of the FIBA world championships in front of their home crowd, there is a sense of disappointment among the Czechs that they are not playing for the title once more, having run into the brick wall known as Russia.
They can look forward, however, to next year's Olympic Qualifying tournament. These were the kind of immense challenges that brought Bortelova back from international exile last summer after almost a decade on the sidelines.
It was Czech head coach Lubor Blazek who convinced her to return to the fold. They had worked together at USK Prague and earned each other's trust. "He gave me this chance and I'm so glad I grabbed it," Bortelova admits. The worlds went better than she could have hoped. "I think everyone was surprised. But it was great. The fans were behind us. We played well. We were on such a high. It was a great feeling. Everyone would say the same."
She intends to carry on, until 2012 at least. The lure of the Olympics is too strong. In Poland, the 33-year-old has averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 assists per game, an efficient leader in the backcourt.
It doesn't matter, says Bortelova, that the attention and the spotlight have been on others. The workload - just like the agonies and ecstasies - is shared around.
"Every player has their own role to do," she states. "I'm happy with mine. I'm happy that I don't have to take pictures anywhere. I don't care, I just want to play well and that we all do our jobs on the court."
This job's nearly over. On Sunday evening in Lodz, there is one more road to cross. Then a farewell to Poland - from the mad world back to the real one.