EUROBASKET 2013By Dimitris Kontos
|Viktor Sanikidze likes to throw down dunks, even more when wearing the national team vest|
Viktor Sanikidze spent several months in the USA at the tender age of 15 and was not even 17 when he left his native Tbilisi for good to move to Dijon, in France.
It was a significant formative period in the life of a teenager that was born when Georgia was still part of the former Soviet Union.
The 2.03m forward made his debut in European club competitions with JDA Dijon at the FIBA Europe Cup for Men aged just 18.
In the nine years that followed, Sanikidze also played in Spain with historical club Estudiantes, in Estonia with Tartu Rock and spent three years, during which he was established as one of the most solid European forwards, at the legendary Virtus Bologna.
He is now in his fourth year in Italy, having joined seven-time domestic champions Montepaschi Siena in the summer, and is playing in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague for the first time in his career.
There has been only one constant in the life of this well-travelled top-notch rebounder, ever since he made heads turn at the U18 European Championship in Zaragoza in 2004, with his 17.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, and was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks.
Every summer since he was a teenager, Sanikidze has been suiting up for the Georgian national team.
"It's different to playing anywhere else, it's like playing with your family," he tells FIBAEurope.com with a big smile in his face.
"We had the entire country on our side this summer, cheering us on, and we wanted to make sure we get there again."
The aim was EuroBasket 2013 and Georgia did achieve, through last summer's Qualification Round, to secure a second consecutive -and second ever- trip to Europe's showcase event.
They finished second in Group D, tied at 6-2 with group winners Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Sanikidze, as usual, led the team in rebounds with 9.1 per contest, ranking fifth overall in the Qualification Round.
Aside from national pride though, there was another reason why players like Sanikidze and Zaza Pachulia, an established NBA veteran, were fixated on qualifying for EuroBasket 2013.
"In Lithuania in 2011 it was our first ever EuroBasket and it was a fantastic experience for us to get together and compete as a team against the top players in Europe," Sanikidze explains.
It sounds almost as if Georgia's players gathered around in the dressing room and agreed 'hey, this was really nice, we should do it again sometime.'
"Something like that," he laughs.
|Sanikidze is counting on the further development of Tornike Shengelia and others as he is aiming high for the upcoming EuroBasket 2013|
"We had to make sure this was not a one-off, and since Georgia does not have the tradition of other nations we have to fight to be there every time."
A hard-nosed player who fights for every loose ball on the court, Sanikidze is calm and soft-spoken off the court, quick to brush aside any notion that either he or the national team have accomplished anything hugely important just yet.
Playing for Siena, who are trying this season to retain their powerhouse status in elite club basketball, and Georgia, who are trying to make a name for themselves on the international scene, requires him to perform a mental switch when he joins the national team.
But he is eager to do whatever it takes to relive -and improve on- the EuroBasket 2011 experience which is still incredibly vivid in his memory, down to the way Georgia lost to F.Y.R. of Macedonia in the Second Round.
Sanikidze does not think right now about what Georgia will do differently next time around, when they will no longer be a novelty once the EuroBasket tips off in Slovenia
There is however little doubt he plans to be a big part of it and of the future of the national team, along with the younger players.
"(Tornike) Shengelia played very well for us in the Qualification Round, but he still needs to work and improve on his game," he says.
"We all need to improve further.
"Then we'll see how everyone is and we'll enjoy getting back together in the summer, I am looking forward to it."