A reminder to have fun and feel privileged to be playing basketball appears all Romania needed to show at the U20 European Championship for Women that they have plenty of talent and will achieve their goal of staying in Division A.
With Romanian basketball federation president Carmen Tocala having flown in to Latvia to watch their final first round game against Belarus on Saturday, the team lost and missed a chance to avoid a relegation battle, but a long talk after the game resulted in two clear victories for the Romanians.
|Elisabeth Pavel is critical to Romania's chances of remaining in Division A.|
"The president was mad at us. Everyone was mad at us. We were mad at ourselves," said Romania's second-leading scorer and rebounder Elisabeth Pavel about the long locker room meeting with Tocala after the loss.
"She just talked to us like a friend. She said we had to enjoy playing basketball and that we are very privileged to be here and represent Romania. And I think that stuck in our minds. Think of it as a privilege and not as a punishment to be here the whole summer."
Pavel added: "We felt privileged that she was here to see us. We felt bad that we let her down. But we hope to make her happy again."
Romania are on the way to pleasing their basketball boss.
The main reason for the sense of urgency in Latvia was the relegation of the U18 Romania women's team from Division A in 2008. Eight players on the current U20 Romanian side experienced that demotion in Slovakia and do not want to repeat that feeling this summer.
"(The loss to Belarus) is a bit disappointing because this generation also lost at U18 Division A two years ago. Right now I really hope that they stay in A," said Tocala.
Romania have responded in great fashion with an 80-51 victory over Bulgaria and a 67-50 win over Sweden in the first two games of the relegation round, giving Pavel and the team an inside track at staying in Division A.
"We just came together. We talked as a team and played really, really, really good as a team. If we had played like the last two games against Turkey and Belarus I think we would be somewhere else," said Pavel.
Two more victories in the final four relegation matches - against Germany, Bulgaria, Sweden and Germany - should secure a spot in the A division next season for Romania.
And that would be a huge boost for Romania basketball, especially for the 18-year-olds Alexandra Ionescu and Cristina Bigica and the 16-year-old Arina Carciun who are on the U20 squad and would have a chance to play U20 A ball next summer.
That trio has a strong group of about seven or eight players to look up to in the senior national team, including Ramona Tarta, Claudia Pop, Maria Pascalau and Gabriela Marginean.
Pavel will be joining the senior national team this summer in Romania's 2011 EuroBasket Women qualification campaign against Serbia, Latvia and Israel.
After the qualifiers, Pavel will take on a further adventure in moving to Coconuda Napoli of the Italian A2 second division - her first experience at the club level outside of Romania.
"It's something new. I'm a little scared because I don't know anyone there and I've never played in a foreign team. I never had a foreign coach. And I've never been in a team where I don't know anyone," said Pavel.
"So it's very exciting but I am scared a little bit. I just hope that the team will welcome me and understand that I am young."
Tocala said the Italian second division is a perfect level for Pavel at this stage.
"That would be a good start. It's good to play 30-40 minutes. In the Serie A she would play maybe 10 minutes. And at this age, that's nothing. So it's a good decision," said Tocala.
One thing is certain, Pavel - and the rest of Romanian basketball - will always have Tocala's reminder to look back upon.