|Anton Gavel first suited up for Slovakia at the U16 European Championship in 1999 |
By Dimitris Kontos
Anton Gavel switches from one language to the other as effortlessly as a well-trained interpreter during a heated discussion at the United Nations general assembly.
He can speak fluently in Slovak, Spanish, German, English or Czech, and possibly many more, whatever it takes to accommodate his interlocutor at any given moment.
Luckily for Slovakia and Brose Baskets Bamberg, Gavel is even more skilful with a basketball in his hands.
As a European who comes from a small country, the 1.89m guard assumes the necessity of speaking various foreign languages as a simple fact of life.
As a Slovak basketball player, he took for granted that once he reached a certain level, he would ply his trade in a bigger country.
It is more complicated for a Slovak teenager that wants to play basketball today, the 28-year-old explains.
"The youth teams are not doing very well, children are either playing other sports or, I don't know, playing computer games," Gavel told FIBAEurope.com.
"But it also doesn't help that in the domestic league any team can have up to eight foreign players.
"I don't think that is the best thing for young Slovak players and for the national team by extension."
Gavel is the leader of the national team and his opinion on the nation's state of affairs carries special weight.
He left his native Kosice at 17 to play in Germany and before returning there in 2009 to join Bamberg, he also tasted life in the Spanish ACB with Murcia and the Greek A1 with Aris Thessaloniki.
He is having another solid season with the German champions in the BEKO Bundesliga (13.9 ppg, 3.4 apg) and the Turkish Airlines Euroleague (13.5 ppg, 2.9 apg).
"I would sure like to use my experience to help [Slovak basketball] but I am not sure how," he asserted.
"We are a small country and basketball is not the number one sport as it is in other countries.
"But perhaps the truth is that we lack a big success - any kind of success really - to attract people to the sport."
"We've always had a good prime material, big athletic guys that could become important players in Europe, like Richard Petruska for example in the past, but we don't have them playing basketball any more."
THE ELUSIVE EUROBASKET
With the Rancik brothers (Radoslav and Martin) approaching the end of their career, the weight on Gavel's shoulders as ambassador of Slovak basketball and leader of the national team could increase even further.
"For the last nine years I've always played for the national team, perhaps I could not always be present in all the games, as was the case last summer [in the EuroBasket 2013 Qualification Round]," he says.
"But I always want to play, because I get to see the guys (team-mates) that I have not seen all year and I am always proud to play for my country."
|Anton Gavel led all scorers in the EuroBasket 2013 Qualification Round with 25.9 points per game |
The EuroBasket 2015 1st Qualification Round is coming up this summer, and although the Slovak international is realistic about his expectations, he will not stop reporting for national duty.
"Of course I will say yes to the national team, but it will be difficult," he admitted.
"We are playing against Belarus and Hungary but in truth, for us any opponent would be a challenge right now.
"We are like a small team in Europe and if we want to achieve something and get some results we need to have available the best possible roster.
"I don't know if we're going to have that in the summer."
Last summer's Qualification Round provided the veteran guard with more perspective on the subject.
Slovakia finished with a 1-9 record, same as Iceland, in a very competitive Group A that produced three teams that made it to the show-piece event in Slovenia.
"We only won one game, in Iceland," he recalls.
"In this group we had a quite small chance to qualify for the EuroBasket but for me it was a great experience to be able to play against teams of the calibre of Serbia, or Montenegro or Israel, these teams are so good.
"We didn't have a full strength team but even so we gave it our best and I enjoyed every minute I got to play with these great players."
Can Slovakia make it happen next summer?
"Of course I would like to play at a EuroBasket one day," Gavel confesses.
"But I know that as it seems now, I will probably not achieve that."
The keen scorer is saying this with utmost sincerity, there is not a whiff of any intention to assume the role of the outsider.
But with him as their leader, Slovakia could still adapt to circumstances and surprise plenty of opponents, just like Gavel does with his multilingual interlocutors.