Anticipation For EuroBasket Grows

20.01.2011

EuroBasket

The seeds for EuroBasket 2011 have been announced, and there are 223 days to go before the start of the tournament.

The draw will be on January 30 in Vilnius, Lithuania, the host nation for this year's 24-team event.

Players and coaches are firmly focused on their club seasons all over Europe and the world, but some have spoken to Basketball World News this week about their national teams and the EuroBasket.

"The draw?" French international Nando de Colo said.

"All opponents are tough. We just have to have as good a team as we can."

Tony Parker (France), Florent Pietrus (France), Felipe Reyes (Spain)
Florent Pietrus and France expect Tony Parker to put on the blue jersey this year in Lithuania

His fellow Frenchman, Florent Pietrus, says the opponent doesn't matter.

He and his Le Bleus teammates are thinking about only one thing.

"Our goal is to make it to the Olympics and that's why Tony Parker rested last summer and Joakim Noah has signed his contract with Chicago," Pietrus said.

"I think we're going to have a big team and everyone is ready to make it. We've been dreaming about this for 10 years."

A Chance For Britain

Dan Clark of Great Britain, a 22-year-old power forward, is like Power Electronics Valencia's De Colo and Pietrus in that he plays in Spain's ACB.

Clark is on the books of Asefa Estudiantes and is really coming into his own this season.

He and Britain know just how important a draw can be because as a member of the British side that played at EuroBasket 2009, his team took on Slovenia, Spain and Serbia - three teams that reached the Semi-Finals - and lost each time.

Spain ended up beating Serbia in the gold-medal game.

Britain bounced back to qualify for EuroBasket 2011.

"It's a huge step for us," Clark said.

"Our goal is to make it to the next round this year.

"We're going to have to have a great preparation, have a great time, enjoy the time, because no other person in the history of British basketball has been to two EuroBaskets the way that we have.

"If we enjoy it, I think we'll be fine."

Lithuania Still In The Clouds

11. Linas Kleiza (Lithuania)
The Lithuanians with top scorer Linas Kleiza surprised everybody at the World Championship

Perhaps nowhere is the basketball buzz greater than in Lithuania and that's not just because hoops is the number one sport in the Baltic nation.

Lithuanians are still sky high after last summer.

Against all expectations, the national team rode a wild-card berth all the way to the last four of the FIBA World Championship in Turkey.

Kestutis Kemzura, the Lithuania coach, instilled so much self-belief in the players and did such a good job of concentrating on the present and not the past that he and his team returned home with a bronze medal.

Martynas Pocius, who played at NCAA powerhouse Duke University in front of sell-out crowds and is now on the books of BC Zalgiris, talked about the national team experience on Wednesday night after his Euroleague game at Valencia.

"It's good to remember those times," Pocius said.

"It was the best time of my life."

It's a great story.

Veteran players, due to injuries or international retirements, weren't available for selection.

Lithuania were coming off a horrendous, one-win EuroBasket in Poland.

The mood was rock-bottom, and Kemzura had no other option but to look at untried, international players like Pocius and Martynas Gecevicius.

"I didn't even know if I was going to make the team," Pocius said.

"And I didn't know what I was getting into.

"It's kind of crazy.

"I made the team on the last day and played well.

"It was a dream come true."

Where did that experience rank for the 24-year-old Pocius?

"Tops," he said. "No, it was above tops. It was absolutely the greatest thing."

Kemzura will know, then, it doesn't matter what the situation, who the opponent is or which players he has in his team.

What he knows is that Lithuania are a third seed for the draw and could fall into a group that includes any one of the top seeds: Spain, Serbia, Greece and Slovenia.

They could get any one of the second seeds, which are France, Croatia, Russia and Turkey.

The fourth seeds are Great Britain, F.Y.R. of Macedonia, Israel and Georgia while the fifth seeds are Italy, Bulgaria, Poland and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ukraine and Kemzura's old team, Latvia, are sixth seeds along with the two sides that advance from the Additional Qualifying Round.

Eventually, even if they avoid some 'good' teams in the initial group stage, they are likely to face them later in the competition.

As the saying goes, "you have to beat the best to be the best."

That held true for Lithuania last year, in fact, because the only side to beat them in Turkey was Team USA, the eventual gold-medal winners.

Kemzura will have to deal with the cards he is dealt with, and Pocius says he is the perfect man to do that.

"He's a great coach," Pocius said.

Pocius, who was speaking after his game with BC Zalgiris at Valencia in the Euroleague, wasn't the only Lithuanian who smiled when asked about the national team.

Paulius Jankunas, a Zalgiris teammate, was another.

The 26-year-old was a vital member of last year's squad like Pocius.

"It was one of the greatest moments of our lives and we were happy with what we did," he said.

"The coach trusted me more, gave me more minutes and it was great to play in that team."

Unlike one year ago, most of the Lithuanian players have an extra bounce in their step with their respective clubs now.

"Of course," Jankunas said. "Victories like this puts the confidence in you and you play with more power and you believe in yourself more."

As for the draw, Jankunas says it doesn't matter who his team faces.

Everyone, specifically the fans, will be expecting great things.

"Now everyone will be expecting something big again but it's going to be hard to repeat something like this."


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