| ||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. |
They may make it to the EuroLeague Women play-offs, or they may not.
It doesn't really matter.
What does matter for Pecs 2010 is that a young Hungarian side has fought opponents in Group A every inch of the way this season and grown up.
If Pecs had the look of the side that might be pushed around before the 2010-11 EuroLeague Women campaign because of all its inexperience, it is certainly not a team that opponents want to face.
|Zeljo Djokic has lead a young and hungry Pécs team to a decisive game on Wednesday against Cras Basket Taranto|
It has turned out to be a squad that treats every second of every minute of every game like it's a life-or-death situation.
Victory at home over Group A winners Cras Basket Taranto on Wednesday would clinch a place in the last 16 of the EuroLeague for Zeljko Djokic's team, which has won three of its last four games to improve to 4-5 and take over sole possession of fourth place.
No one in the city of Pecs is talking about anything else.
"In the city of Pecs, the atmosphere has begun to reach a boiling point and the main topic at any place is what will happen next Wednesday, and whether or not this young team can beat a very strong team of Taranto and qualify for the Top 16," Djokic said to Basketball World News.
The season has been a huge learning experience for the Hungarian team.
The Kosice and Taranto games illustrate this point perfectly.
In Slovakia, Pecs crashed to a 75-57 defeat and followed that up with 68-40 thrashing in Italy.
It was gut-check time.
Pecs would either fold up their tents and go home, or come out swinging.
Djokic's players chose the latter.
It helped that they found inspiration in the club's tradition of excellence.
In 2001, '04 and '05, Pecs made it to the EuroLeague Final Four.
Remember, this is a place where Laszlo Ratgeber, the current Fenerbahce boss, once coached.
"Everyone in the team recalls the days when the club successfully fought to participate in the Final Four," Djokic said.
There's one player in the Pecs team that was in those Final Four teams, and Djokic beams with pride when her name is mentioned.
"Of course for me as a young coach, it is much easier when behind my basketball philosophy which I force every day, remains one of the best point guards ever in the EuroLeague, Dalma Ivanyi," he said.
"She greatly helps this young team with her experience and the way she plays, and makes her teammates to be much, much better in every aspect of the game.
|Dalma Ivanyi provides experience and leadership for a young team as well as a great eye for her teammates|
"She's like a magician with a magic wand in her hand."
That was an accurate description of Ivanyi in the club's 75-72 victory over Good Angels Kosice last week in Pecs.
Ivanyi, 34, made all nine of her free-throws en route to 18 points, and also handed out five assists and grabbed eight rebounds.
It's Not Just Dalma
As inspiring as she is, Ivanyi can't do it alone.
"Next to her, there are two really important players of Hungarian nationality, Zsofia Fegyverneky and Nora Nagy-Bujdoso," said Djokic, a graduate of the FIBA Europe Coaching Certificate program.
"Both of them are playing in the form of their lives this season.
"When I say this, I'm not just talking about scoring points, but more about what they all do on the court in both phases of the game for our team.
"Zsofia, for example, in every game guards the opponents' best player, and at the same time enjoys an average of 11 points per game."
There are others.
"I should also mention that this year, we decided to sign and re-sign really young foreign players and in so doing, give them a chance to build their European careers," Djokic said.
"For example, Alexandria Quigley (24, Illinois) is growing into one of the best shooters in the EuroLeague, and Sara Krnjic (Serbia) is our first option at position five while just 19 years old."
"Kelsey Griffin (23, Alaska) is a rookie in the EuroLeague but I can say that she is improving from day to day, and she's catching the rhythm of European basketball.
"In our last game against Kosice, she had one of the key roles in our big success."
In 29 minutes, Griffin poured in 14 points and grabbed seven boards.
"There are also two young Hungarians, Krisztina Raksanyi and Nikolett Sarok, who this year have gained EuroLeague experience by playing in every game and are only 19 and 20 years of age (respectively)."
To this point, nine games have been played.
Now comes number 10 and judging from the first clash in Italy, it will take a monumental effort and then some just to challenge Taranto, never mind beat them.
Should Pecs not win, USO Mondeville could leapfrog them into fourth place with a triumph over TTT Riga in France.
Mondeville are 3-6 and will be expected to win that game, though Riga (1-8) beat them 55-50 in the first encounter in Latvia.
Heading into the last week, and despite the opponents being Taranto, Pecs are fully aware they control their own destiny.
"Of course, everyone knows that we play with one of the best defensive teams in Europe, but our trademark is also defense," Djokic said of the Taranto clash.
Pre-Season Objectives Met
Win or lose, smiles or tears, it has been mission accomplished for Pecs.
"Before the start of this EuroLeague season, I said that I hoped my young team could be a true rival to any opponent, but that we had to work a bit more than all the others in order to be able to progress and thus achieve a result," Djokic said.
"Of course, the time is working for us and now when we are one step away from achieving our dreams, I can with a clear conscience declare that we have really invested a lot of energy in our work together and we're starting to get the returns.
"I am primarily referring to the personal growth of each player, and therefore the progress of the team, which is immeasurable."
The icing on the cake would be to reach the play-offs.
"And for this young team, qualifying for the second round would be as great a success for them as reaching Final Four," Djokic said.