After two days in the U20 European championship there’s no doubt which is the most surprising team. The Czech Republic participated only once in the U20 championship and but finished last with only one win. Despite having a player in the NBA, Czech basketball doesn’t have a big tradition in recent years, and nobody gave them much of a chance to do anything in this championship either. True, the Czechs are here as the host team, and it is doubtful that they would have made it here through the qualifying round, but with a lot of hard work and team effort they have earned enough respect already after two days.
It started with a tough game vs. Russia on the first day. Despite losing by 17, the Czechs raised their hands only after 3 quarters. In the second day the upset was complete. Czech shocked Spain with a 69-65 win and can now dream out loud about the quarter-finals, as one of the top prospects in Europe, David Steffel, admits.
||I think we can play against every team here
Steffel wasn’t the best player in the Czech team in the win over Spain, but he showed he can step aside and give his teammates the stage to perform, although there’s no doubt who has the most promising future of all.
At 207 cm and one year younger than most of the players in this competition (born 1985), Steffel presents the package that we expect from the modern forward - he’s athletic, he can score far from and close to the basket and he’s going in aggressive on the rebound.
Italy's Benetton Treviso already spotted Steffer's talent 2 years ago and signed him for its great basketball program for young prospects. After playing one season with the Benetton junior team he was loaned last season to Polzela in the Slovenian top league where he averaged 13.8 point-per-game and 6.5 rebounds-per-game.
“I started to play basketball when I was 11 years old” , Steffel is starting to introduce himself.
“I was already about 185cm back then so I was sent to play basketball. All my family is very tall, but I’m the only one playing basketball. It took a few years but once I started to play in the first league in the Czech Republic I understood I can play basketball as a pro in the future”.
How was it like to be signed by a big club and play there?
“Benetton signed me 2 years ago. I started to play in the Junior team and in the last season played in a team in Slovenia where I got to play a lot of minutes. I don’t know where I’m going to play next season – it depends on Benetton I guess. I don’t get to spend a lot of time in the Czech Republic, I'm only coming here for holidays, and sometimes its tough because I miss my family a lot.
Benetton has a sports center for all the young talents, where we sleep, eat and everything, but not many players get to make it to the first team”.
How was the game today against Spain?
“We played like a team. Spain was down by 8 in the first quarter and its players started to play bad because of the pressure. Spain beat us by 58 points or so 2 years ago when we played against them in the qualification round, so they probably thought they are going to have an easy game. They got nervous during the game and missed a lot of shots”.
How were the preparations for the championship?
“We started to practice about one and half months ago, and we practiced a lot. We had some practice games, and we lost all of them, including some games against Greece and Lithuania, but every game we played we were better and better, and lost by smaller margins. We got 5 good players, but they play in the Czech league, and it took them sometime to adjust to the European level.
So if you are getting only better each game, what can we expect tomorrow?
“We want to win every game. I think we can play against every team here, and hope to be in the quarter-finals. Before the championship, inside the team, we really spoke about making it to the quarter-finals”.