Enjebo Phlegmatic about Sweden Chances

19.08.2004

Sweden coach Jan Enjebo is under no illusions about the enormity of his country's task in next month's qualifying matches for the European Championships.

Enjebo, who has coached the men's national team for the past four years, knows the 13-man squad he selected on Tuesday faces a difficult job against the higher-ranked Croatia and Russia.

But he is also an optimist and believes the gap between Europe's best and lesser sides continues to narrow.

The Sweden squad continues to rely on its "old guard" - centre Joakim Blom, forwards Oluoma Nnamaka and Fredrik Jonzen, and guard Jonas Larsson.

They have been the backbone of the men's national team for almost a decade and Enjebo believes the quartet can still perform at international level.

Shooting guard Larsson will add his experience around the perimeter while Nnamaka will provide drive down the corridor.

Blom, at 28 and 211cm, will provide the height under the basket - something of a luxury for Sweden.

"For some reason, Swedish men do not usually grow very tall, which is obviously a huge disadvantage in basketball," Enjebo told PA International.

However, it is Enjebo's selection of two future stars that is the talking point of the squad.

Georgia Tech guard Jim Nystrom and Congo-born Olivier Ilunga, who moved to Sweden when he was two, are both making their debuts in the senior squad.

Nystrom played for the Swedish Under-20 team and had two years with the Solna Vikings in the national league before taking up a scholarship at Georgia Tech.

Under NCAA rules, however, he had to sit out the Yellow Jackets' first eight games because he had played for the Vikings.

"Jim knows he has to work at his game if he is going to make the NBA draft," said Enjebo.

"At the moment he plays more with the heart than the head. He needs to get a bit smarter on the court."

Enjebo also believes the squad is a nice mix of older players and newcomers.

"The bigger guys like to take care of the younger ones in the squad. They are starting to work together well," he said.

However, Sweden continues to be dogged by no-shows.

Young players such as Christian Maraker, Jasko Korajkic and Kenny Grant have all been told by their US colleges that they could not be released for the warm-up matches before the European qualifiers.

And the history of Swedish basketball is also far from glorious.

Sweden have played in the final round of the European Championships on eight occasions and never been better than 11th - in Greece in 1995. 

In the 2003 European Championships, Sweden lost their three group games, going down 99-52 to Spain, 92-71 to Russia and 78-68 to Serbia & Montenegro.

But at least Enjebo has brought some organisation to the national team.

Next week, the squad heads to Finland for two practice matches and then, on August 28, they move on to Istanbul for the Efes Pilsen tournament.

Sweden have been drawn against Turkey and Slovenia, while Russia, Israel and Germany contest the other group.

The Swedes are also keeping a close check on this summer's Olympics and, although the 2008 Beijing Games are a long way off, Enjebo has taken time out from his hectic schedule to run the rule over the Athens competition.

"I like the look of Spain and Lithuania," Enjebo admitted.

"The majority of the Spain squad has been together since junior level and Lithuania, after a shaky start, are growing stronger as the tournament goes on."

And the Sweden coach insists he is not surprised by Team USA's poor showing.

"They just haven't had the same preparation as other teams," said Enjebo.

"They don't have much team spirit, they play more of an individual game - which is the style of the NBA."

Sweden squad: Joakim Blom, Fred Drains, Johan Jeansson, Fredrik Jonzen, Jonas Larsson, Hakan Larsson, Mats Levin, Oluoma Nnamaka, Jim Nystrom, Michael Palm, John Pettersson, Martin Ringstrom, Olivier Ilunga


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