By Ian Parker, PA International
Denmark coach Allan Foss is backing his side to qualify for the 2007 European Championships after overseeing a radical overhaul of the national set-up.
After the disappointment of losing out in the semi-final qualifying round in 2003, Foss has rewritten the coaching philosophy in Denmark.
So bad were the results in 2003 that Denmark were relegated to Division B, making qualification to Eurobasket 2005 impossible.
||In Denmark we've a lot of good European-standard players, but in the past we've built our teams around the two or three stars.
But they have bounced back to top their group in Division B, putting them on course to be in the qualification mix-up in two years.
Foss has recently returned from Ireland, where his team enjoyed victories over Ireland and England in the Four Nations Tournament, but it was a new-look side which caught their opponents by surprise.
"It was a good experience for us to go over there," he said to PA International.
"We have brought together a new group of players. We have focused on bringing in players from the smaller European clubs.
"We have a group of kids that we know. We've a lot of them in Denmark, and around them we're going to build our style of play. All this was illustrated in these games where we had four or five different guys who were the top scorers."
The sides put out by Foss recently have been without the country's big names such as Mikael Dahl Andersen or Christian Drejer, who are based abroad.
The idea is to build up a core of Danish-based players who Foss can stay in close contact with, and spend longer preparing with, rather than building a side around absent stars.
"It's not that we don't want them or that they aren't willing to come. But they have a much harder time getting here for the games and they might only be able to show up right before the game, and that's not right for me when I'm trying to prepare.
"It's like I'm missing the screwdriver and the hammer right when I need to start building the house. So we're trying to build a different team, and then when it's possible for these guys to come home and have time for preparation we'll definitely include them.
"In Denmark we've a lot of good European-standard players, but in the past we've built our teams around the two or three stars. It's very insecure to build around so few. Now we're trying to get around 30 players who are going to be our go-to guys. Now we are able to get serious again.
"I think we can create much better results this way. We haven't been getting good results in Danish basketball for a long time. I know from my business career, if you don't get results one way, try something different.
"Now with the results we've had in qualifying, and the wins in Ireland, we're getting better results than we've had in Denmark in 10 years."
Relegation to Division B meant it would be a huge task to qualify for a European Championships. But Foss took a step back and saw the opportunity to effect a much bigger change. With 2005 off the agenda, Foss had four years to aim for 2007.
"I'm not frustrated that it has to take us so long to qualify again. What was frustrating is that we were so bad in 2003. I'm not concerned about the 2005 tournament. I would have loved to have been there, but you've got to deserve it."
Denmark now have a year off before their next round of European qualifying games, time for Foss to develop his younger players. The aim is to try and keep a sense of momentum throughout the long lay-off.
"Right now we have a critical mass that we've never had before. We're ready to play against some better competition. I think we'll be looking to qualify for the finals in 2007.
"We've had a lot of positive feedback from other countries we've played against. They were very surprised by how good we were, having seen our previous results and some of the guys we had left out. Hopefully, we can continue to surprise people."