By Paul Nilsen
|Luisa Michulková helped the Slovak Republic to qualify for EuroBasket Women and is ready for more this year|
After the agony of sitting out EuroBasket Women 2009 with an ACL injury, Slovak Republic guard Luisa Michulkova is more than a little excited at the prospect of treading the boards this summer in Poland.
While the performances and progress of the Slovak Republic was one of the big talking points two years ago, there was of course one player in the camp for whom the entire experience in Latvia was more than a little bitter-sweet.
Not surprisingly when the Qualifying Round for EuroBasket Women 2011 swung into action last summer, the guard put in some top performances to make sure her team booked their spot and this time she wouldn't left marooned in the role as team cheerleader.
"Yes for sure, it was a big motivation for me to get to EuroBasket Women 2011 after those two ACL surgeries during 2009 which meant I was out for about 16 months in total," explained Michulkova.
"While in Latvia, I was recovering and it was a really hard time for me. I was there with the team but only watching and cheering for my team-mates and not playing with them.
"That was making me really sad and was really hard. So with that in mind, I was obviously trying to do my absolute best during the Qualifying Round to get that chance again to play in a EuroBasket Women tournament."
Not that qualification was exactly straight forward for the Slovak Republic. In fact at times, it looked like they might not make it, even if Michulkova was doing her thing and coming up big for her team in the absence of Zuzana Zirkova.
"I do not want this to sound like a cliché , but basketball is not about individual statistics or performances. Of course, every player is happy if they succeeded, including me but I'm just always trying to do my job as good as I can.
"On the court it's all about 5 players that play together, stay together, help each other, believe in each other and win or lose together.
"Yes, there were many ups and downs in our performances last summer but we made it to EuroBasket Women again and that's all that counts. Qualifying was not easy at all but I never lost a faith in our team and truly didn't stop believing at any minute about our ability to fight for our place.
"I believe every mistake we made can only help us to improve for the future and especially for this summer.
"I'm just really happy we made it and of course, we all cannot forget to thank to our former coach Pokey (Chatman)!"
The guard was certainly quick to pay tribute to the influence and work of Chatman and is relieved to have a play-caller with the experience of Natalia Hejkova to call on when they turn up in Poland to compete in a tough looking Group A against Lithuania, Russia and Turkey.
"We all will miss Pokey as a coach. I think if I say that she did a great job with National Team then I talk for everyone. Before she arrived we were always the unlucky Slovakians that tried to qualify year by year but with no success.
"She gave us that confidence in ourselves that we all can play and compete at the highest level with every team and we learned that nothing is impossible. We had such a good chemistry in the team while her coaching was very important as well.
"Now having Natalia as a coach is a big deal since she is one of the best and most successful coaches in Europe and so I hope we will keep it this way. She was part of the team anyway so she knows us as players, she knows the team and so I think she's the right person at the right place, at the right time!
"It's hard to say what the expectations are. We have got a pretty balanced group, so we have to keep going step by step to reach our goal and I think last time in Latvia, we had a good start. If every one of us will be healthy and nothing unexpected happens then I believe we can have a good chance to be successful.
"For sure everyone in Group A are all very good teams with good and experienced players, and with the exception of Lithuania, we have already played them a couple of times, either in pre-season or at the last tournament so we kind of know what to expect from them.
"The games won't be easy at all but every one of them will start from 0:0 and I do believe we can do a good job and I'm looking forward to it, if of course, I get given the chance."
One of the key elements to the success or otherwise of Slovak Republic will be the anticipated return of the influential Zuzana Zirkova to the line-up, something which Michulkova hopes will materialise to give the team a further boost.
"Without doubt , Zuzana is number one in Slovakia while also knowing we did a job without her is good for our confidence and realising that there are also oher good players in Slovakia that can step up if she's not there.
"Of course we missed our leader last summer, so I really hope she will be healthy and ready to play this year at EuroBasket Women 2011 . She is the kind of player that we all can count on in critical moments since she is our leader!"
Meanwhile on the club scene, Michulkova is preparing to wrap up her first ever season outside of Slovak Republic after making the switch to Real Club Celta Vigo.
"I'm really enjoying it here in Spain. There's a big difference between the Spanish league and the Slovakian league.
"The season is almost over now and our goals were totally different before the season started so we all are a little bit sad we didn't make it work how we wanted to but I'm really thankful for the experience and opportunity to play in one of the best leagues in Europe."