|Jon Stefanssonhas been referred to as an ambassador of his country|
By Dimitris Kontos
Icelandic international Jon Stefansson has been referred to, in sports pages of newspapers in at least four different European countries, as an ambassador of his country.
It is not because he literally holds a diplomatic post, or because he has inherited an aristocracy title from his - otherwise very famous - family.
The capacity of ambassador, at least in this allegorical sense, is a position his equally well-known brothers, Ólafur and Eggert, can never aspire to, because the rarity factor does not apply in their case.
Jon's brothers have also represented the Icelandic national team and had successful professional careers abroad, but in handball and football, respectively - probably the two most popular team sports on the volcanic island in the north Atlantic.
The 31-year-old CAI Zaragoza guard on the other hand, is hands-down the most famous basketball player to hail from the Nordic island country.
He has heard the 'ambassador' label several times during a long career that has brought him to Spain, Italy, Russia, Germany and the United States.
It is true that he is on a one-man mission to promote basketball, but not in the direction the term implies.
Stefannson is more of a European ambassador to a country that has a very particular history and geographical position, in close proximity to North America.
"I would like to see basketball people in Iceland focus more on Europe," Stefannson told fibaeurope.com.
"Not a lot of people from Iceland actually realise how big the European stage is inside the basketball world.
|Stefansson believes Iceland have made good forward progress in recent times|
"They are a bit stuck with the NBA, always talking about it and they kind of forget the European stage, because they don't know it well enough to appreciate it.
"Hopefully in the next few years this will change. With me playing here [in Spain] it will hopefully interest people in following European basketball.
Iceland have never played in a big tournament but Stefannson, at club level, has won a Eurocup trophy with David Blatt's Dynamo St Petersburg in 2005 and one Italian Cup title, with Napoli.
The 1.96 winger is in his third season at CAI Zaragoza and continues to enjoy his fair share of action in big occasions of European basketball, of which he would like Iceland to take notice.
"I have a lot of respect for the Spanish league," Stefannson said.
"The Copa del Rey for example is a lot about people around Europe who love basketball coming together just to watch, enjoy and talk about basketball.
"It's not only about the games, it's the general good feeling around it, that's what makes it so special.
"I would like Icelandic basketball to see what they are doing in Europe, in terms of developing players, coaching - because coaching is a huge part of it - and in terms of the professionalism of the clubs.
"We have to get the knowledge from Europe, it's closer to us, it's closer to the brand of basketball we are going to be playing."
"That's something that I would like Iceland to have."
CRAZY ICELANDIC FIGHTERS
|"The Icelandic mentality is like this, we are crazy enough to think that we can beat anybody" |
Stefannson is aware that is not a mission which a single person can take on on their own.
Just like basketball itself, the aim of pulling Iceland closer to Europe will require a team effort.
"I would like to continue doing my thing, hopefully continue my career at the top level and play with the national team in the summer," the veteran guard said.
"I love to play for Iceland with the guys, with my friends, and just help to promote Icelandic basketball and move it forward."
"We actually have been getting better with the national team.
"The last two summers, with the new coach from Sweden [Peter Ökvist], who unfortunately will not continue with us I believe, we took steps forward.
"We have had some good national teams coming home to play, like Serbia and Montenegro [in the Qualification Round for EuroBasket 2013].
"We gave a lot of fight to those guys and maybe that helps.
"But I think what would really help basketball is success with the national team, and that is what we have been missing in Iceland."
Could this success finally arrive for Iceland in July, when they go up against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Great Britain in Group A of the EuroBasket 2015 2nd Qualifying Round?
"I don't think we have a good chance, to be honest," Stefannson comments on the draw with disarming honesty.
"But I also think we will always come out to compete hard and all the teams that will play against us, they'd better be ready for it.
"The Icelandic mentality is like this, we are crazy enough to think that we can beat anybody.
"So they will have to bring their best game to be able to beat us.
"This fighting spirit is what our fans expect to see from us."
"We are much smaller, not as talented, but we will always show a bigger heart in all the games."