| ||Jeff Taylor has been covering European basketball since 1997, when he first worked on the television program SLAM. He has been a basketball writer and broadcaster since that time, traveling the continent and covering the game in depth for FIBA Europe since its launch in 2003. |
No team, no matter how talented or how big its tradition of winning, gets a free pass to success.
The Spanish women know that better than anyone right now.
On Sunday night, Croatia knocked off Spain, 75-71, bringing an end to the tournament for a team that had reached the podium at every EuroBasket Women since 2001.
The result capped a nightmarish eight days for Spain coach Jose Ignacio Hernandez, whose side won just three of six games in the tournament.
La Roja defeated Germany - the team that won the Additional Qualifying Tournament - as well as Poland and Latvia.
They fell, though, in an upset to Montenegro, in a fourth-quarter blowout to France and in a shocking setback to Croatia.
It's a far cry from the good times Spain have enjoyed, and come to expect, every year.
|Motivation can be an issue for veterans that have already enjoyed a lot of success, but nobody can take anything away from players like Laia Palaua and Elisa Aguilar who tried their best in every single game in Poland|
There was the EuroBasket Women 2003 in Greece, when Spain trailed Poland by 17 points in the fourth quarter but stormed back to win the game and the bronze medal and book a spot at the Athens Olympics.
Spain's players cried on the court after, but those were tears of relief and joy.
Then in Athens one year later, Laia Palau hit that very long three-pointer in Spain's opening game to force overtime against the Czech Republic, a game Palau and Co won, 80-78.
Who can forget the Spanish team of 2007 in Chieti, Italy, when Amaya Valdemoro led a spirited comeback against Russia in the gold medal game.
Spain cut a 21-point deficit late in second quarter to just four with eight minutes left but Russia held on for a 74-68 win.
Valdemoro had 26 points and eight rebounds and wept after that defeat.
The EuroBasket Women MVP award was nice, but it wasn't the gold Valdemoro had wanted.
There was the thrill of walking into the Olympic stadium in Beijing before the start of the Games in 2008, an experience of a lifetime.
China also saw the debut of teenager Alba Torrens in the Spain shirt.
The next two years finished with bronze, at the EuroBasket Women 2009 in Riga and last year at the World Championship in the Czech Republic.
This year, Spain were among the pre-tournament favorites for the title but fell short of the Quarter-Final Round.
Now, there is no medal, nor an opportunity to play in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
There is also the likelihood that two great servants to Spain, Valdemoro and Elisa Aguilar, have played their last game for the national team.
"We're all hit," Hernandez said.
"It has been unexpected and hard for everyone."
There is no need to have a post-mortem.
|EuroBasket Women 2011 could be the last chapter of Amaya Valdemoro's wonderful career with the Spain national team|
Spain already know where it all went wrong in Poland.
Valdemoro, at 34, was the captain but played just one game because of a calf injury.
She had been hurt in the build-up to Poland but Spain brought their most experienced player and hoped for the best.
There was the late arrival for the second straight year of Sancho Lyttle from the WNBA.
At the FIBA World Championship for Women, Lyttle made the all-tournament team.
"The incorporation of Amaya and Sancho stopped the rhythm of play and the collective of work," Hernandez said.
"Our efforts to bring them were not fruitful because Amaya had the recurring injury and Sancho had started having bigger problems."
In Poland, after starting the WNBA season again with the Atlanta Dream, Lyttle showed up tired and not fully fit.
She jogged onto the court against Croatia on Sunday with her left leg taped up to just below the left knee.
The absence of Valdemoro, the star of their overtime win against France in the Quarter-Finals of the World Championship, was telling.
"We thought we would have Amaya, but in the end, it couldn't be," Hernandez said.
"The effort of Sancho to play was commendable. No one is aware in Spain because it was something hidden but we'd been without Sancho at all times."
Lyttle's two EuroLeague Women title-winning teammates at Halcon Avenida, Anna Montanana and Alba Torrens, had a nightmare.
Torrens, the MVP of this year's Final Four in Ekaterinburg, missed all 13 of her shots from the floor and scored just two points.
There will also be questions about the national team futures of both Palau, who is 31, and 30-year-old Montanana.
The cruelty for Palau is that she could not have played any harder, nor any better than on Sunday when she and reserve center Lucila Pascua carried Spain on their backs for most of the contest against Croatia.
Palau had 19 points and a game-high four steals.
Her defensive effort was hands down the best by any player at the EuroBasket Women in Katowice.
Pascua had 17 points and eight rebounds.
How far did she come in this tournament?
Pascua played just five minutes in the win over Germany and did not even feature against Montenegro.
She played with so much heart and determination that Spain should consider making the 28-year-old a captain.
Instead of thinking about medals, and Olympic Games, Spain must now consider the next step, a new plan.
"It may be that the present is black but the future can never be black," Hernandez said.
"Women's basketball in Spain is in a great moment.
"We have to analyze the great success of the Spanish clubs this season may have meant that certain players arrived at this point tired."
Spanish giants Ros Casares also reached the EuroLeague Women Final Four.
Spanish Basketball Federation president Jose Luis Saez borrowed a quote from an American writer, Marilyn Vos Savant.
He tweeted: "Being defeated is often only a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent."
What about Hernandez and his job as Spain coach?
"I am not worried about my future," he said.
"The FEB decision will be for the best.
"I am thankful to the federation for having given me an opportunity as the national team coach to have achieved a bronze medal at a World Championship. I am proud to have been part of this group and to have fought against the problems to have emerged."