Jazz Trio Champion Eurobasket

17 May 2005
By Jeff Taylor, PA International

Many of Europe's finest basketball players dream of making it to the NBA, a league which has spawned legends like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Oh to be a part of the NBA play-offs!

But wait, three members of the Utah Jazz's European contingent - Croatia's Gordan Giricek, Turkey's Mehmet Okur and Russia's Andrei Kirilenko - have raised the spectre that the Eurobasket - the European Championships - is tougher than the NBA post-season.

You've got to play. You've got to represent your country, and you have to play good
Mehmet Okur

Okur was a member of Detroit's NBA title-winning team last season, and will spearhead Turkey's challenge at September's European Championships in Serbia & Montenegro.

He is quoted in Monday's Deseret Morning News as saying that the Eurobasket is "harder than the play-offs".

Giricek says that it's so hard in the European competition that it's nearly impossible to pick a winner.

"In Europe," he said, "you have like 10 teams (among 16) that can be first-five."

The event in Sweden two years ago backs up what Giricek is saying.

France had San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker and other NBA players in the squad, yet they were upset in the semi-final by Italy, a team with no NBA players.

Italy, in fact, lost their first two games, but beat Bosnia-Herzegovina and went on to capture the bronze medal.

Dirk Nowitzki, the Dallas Mavericks superstar, was Germany's talisman, yet that country made an early exit.

Slovenia had a double-digit lead against Israel and looked to be the form team, but collapsed in that game and bowed out of the tournament.

World champions Serbia & Montenegro were also eliminated early on.

Giricek, Okur and Kirilenko all played in the tournament, but their teams were knocked out before the semi-final rounds.

Lithuania could easily have lost to Latvia in their opener, but won in overtime before marching through the field to win the crown.

"I agree every (Eurobasket) game is competition," said Kirilenko, who will play this summer for Russia. "There are no weak teams. Everybody can be champion."

The opinions of American fans in NBA cities may differ, but one thing is not up for debate.

For the Europeans, playing for their countries is an honour, and for that reason, expect the Eurobasket to always been one heck of an event.

"This is real important for us, for our country and Turkish basketball,"

Okur said. "You've got to play. You've got to represent your country, and you have to play good."

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