Back in the 50’s and 60’s the senior team of Bulgaria was a member of the European elite. The golden age of the Junior National Team was during the late 70’s and early 80’s when the team reached the Semi-finals four times in a row and won 2 bronze medals back-to-back (80’ & 82’).
In the last two decades we witnessed a different story. Between 1984 and 1998 no flight with a Bulgarian Junior team in it left Sofia, and in 2000 they finished last. All of that could change in this competition. Bulgaria is displaying a very athletic and competitive team that aims for the quarterfinals. The reason, or perhaps reasons would be a better word, are the Ivanov twins.
It’s not a rare sight to see two brothers play in the same National Team in the young generations. Even in this tournament there’s one other pair of brothers in the Latvian team for example, the Strupovics, but how often do you get to see two identical twins playing for a national team?
We had the Lavrinovicius twins in Lithuania, the Urtasun twins of Spain. Now add another pair to the list. Kaloyan and Deyan Ivanov are twin brothers that play for the U18 National Team of Bulgaria. If you’re having a problem telling the difference between them in a mug-shot (save your efforts…), you better not try to do it during the game. They both stop at 204 cm, both play on the inside and switch from the power forward to the center position and back whenever needed, both have the same moves and abilities and both are the best players of the Bulgarian NT. No doubt.
After spending their first years of basketball in a small team the twins moved to a big club last season. Levski Sofia, one of the top clubs in Bulgaria, signed the identical talents and enrolled them in the Junior and Senior teams. They opened the tournament with an impressive performance. Bulgaria faced powerhouse Greece in the first game of the first day, and out of the 18 points Bulgaria scored in the first quarter, 14 were “Made in Ivanov-land”. Bulgaria lost that game, but today came the first win. An impressive performance that finished with 93-88 over Lithuania.
“We do everything together, so it was natural that we started to play basketball at the same time” says Kaloyan Ivanov. “It was 7 years ago, and after about 3 years it became serious. We understood that we can play in the high levels”.
But it was far from being a coincidence that Kaloyan and his brother picked basketball of all sports. The entire Ivanovs seems like one big happy basketball family. “Our big brother is also playing basketball, and our parents used to play the game too. Our dad played a little and our mother played as well” he says.
On the way to the win over Lithuania today, the twins had to match up against one of the most promising centers in Europe. Martynas Andriuskevicius of Lithuania is a 217 cm center, 13cm bigger than the Ivanovs, but according to Kaloyan it wasn’t a big issue for them: “We are used to play against much taller guys. We play forward but also the center, and in Bulgaria we played many times against players that are 210 and up”, and the boxscore of the game surely showed that. Kaloyan finished 28 minutes with 19 points and 15 rebounds and his brother nailed 21 points with 9 rebounds and 4 assists.
|One of the Ivanov twins (guess which?) goes strong inside|
“We were excited about the win today. At some point I thought we are going to lose, because they started to hit big shots, but we didn’t miss from the line and my teammates did a great job, so we got the first win”. Kaloyan concludes the first win in a Junior European championship for Bulgaria since 1998. “Our dream is to finish in the top 5, but if I’m realistic than our goal is the quarterfinals. I didn’t see all the teams here yet, but France seems like a very good one. They have big men and everyone is very athletic on this team”.