by Paul Nilsen
When it comes to the basketball battle of the sexes, it is the women who reign supreme over the men in Romania. Encouragingly for fans of the female game, it isn't just at senior level, with the Federation also encouraged and excited by last years results at youth level.
While the senior team will once again have the opportunity of staking their claim for a place at Eurobasket Women in the summer, the U20 Women also now find themselves in Division A having gained promotion last year thanks mainly to the exciting trio of Claudia Pop, Ramona Tarta and Elisabeth Pavel.
It is one of the reasons why Tiberiu Rist speaks with real gusto on behalf of the Federation about the future plans and ambitions of basketball in Romania.
"Our National Federation has several targets in the performance plan for
the National Teams. At the senior level with younger teams, the target for each Romanian representative is qualification to a European final tournament if it's possible."
"For the Womens senior team, Romania wants a valuable place in the 2011 Eurobasket Women while at the youth team level, Romania has proposed more notable performances, for the women's team at U20 and U18 levels."
|Annemarie Parau and Municipal Targoviste made some noise in the EuroCup Women before crashing out against Kursk in the quarter-finals|
"In domestic terms, we have many strong teams which are trying to continue doing an excellent job in the various cups of European competition."
Romanian basketball journalist Adrian Popa also smiles when he openly admits - "The girls are better than the boys." He believes much of the success comes from home grown players being given an opportunity to play in their home league and the emergence of stars such as Gabriela Marginean who recently tasted limited court-time in the WNBA.
"The Womens national team has qualified three times in the last decade at the Eurobasket Women in 2001, 2005, 2007 - even though the Womens domestic league is not particularly strong, with only two, or three teams battling for the title."
"There is a powerhouse team like MCM Targoviste who played in EuroCup Women and is dominating the national contest. The big positive is that it is mainly Romanian players who are playing in the league and this is a benefit for national team."
"We have also some players abroad, like Florina Pascalau, in Italy or Gabriela Marginean, who is now the next star of Romanian basketball. "
"Marginean was the first Romanian players drafted in WNBA and was recently playing for Minnesota Lynx, after a stellar college career for Drexel Dragons (Philadelphia). She was the all time scoring leader of her college."
However the senior Women know they will have to do better this year if they want to prevent missing out on successive EuroBasket Women tournaments and it won't be easy after being drawn against Israel, Serbia and Latvia.
|Gabriela Marginean was a stand-out at the youth level and is now quickly emerging as a star in the women's game.|
Last summer they fluffed their lines big time and ended up bottom of the group after winning just one of eight games. While they retained their top flight status with ease during the Additional Relegation Round, it won't be something they want to have to do again this year.
While their female counterparts remain in Division A and will fight for a place in Poland next year, the men face something of a mountain to climb if they are to realise their own ambitions. Having failed to make any kind of big impression in Division B last year by finishing fourth in a five team qualifying group courtesy of 3 wins and five losses, they need to show some kind if improvement this time.
According to Popa, there were multiple reasons for their failure to launch a genuine promotion bid last year but he thinks that last years young team could be helped by the return of a few veterans this summer.
"The Mens national teams is still struggling in the second division. It was maybe a change of generations, especially with the young guns aged 20-21 years old all coming in. However when the next campaign starts this summer, there will probably be two or three more veterans coming back to be part of the team. As far as I know, the objective is qualifying to the A division this campaign and then to try to get to Eurobasket 2013."
It is a sentiment echoed by 22 year old Vlad Moldoveanu - the top scorer for Romania last year with over 18 points per game. He will once again help his team in their quest to reach the elite tier and believes the experience of last years campaign will benefit the young team this time around against Sweden, Azerbaijan, Albania and Belarus.
"Last year was a great stepping stone for our young national team. We thought we were going to win more games than we did but our youth showed at crucial times, especially with Belarus and Cyprus. We knew that it was going to be hard for us to qualify so we went into the competition thinking we wanted to win every game and make the most of it."
"Our early loss to Cyprus changed the way we approached the competition. Overall it was a great experience and it helped us become better and I think we will be a different team this year."
"Our goal is to qualify out of this group and then qualify for the European Championship. I think it is within reach as long as we approach training camp with the right mentality. I think we have good enough players to be successful at that level and we definitely want to get there as soon as possible."
The center is one of the great hopes of Romanian basketball and it is a position and responsibility that he is acutely aware. After tearing it up in Washington DC for American Eagles, his performances in the NCAA have only underlined his importance to the future of the National Team.
"I think I have been in this situation since I started playing basketball. The way I see it, it's a lot of fun and not so much pressure. If you want to be one of the best then you have to step up in these kind of situations and make the big plays when the team needs you."
"A lot of the weight is on my shoulders, but I don't have a problem with it, I like it and this is when it gets fun, just look at Kobe, LeBron and all the great players, they live for these kind of moments."
"I am looking forward to my senior year and having a good year individually but also hoping to win the conference with my team and qualify for the NCAA tournament. After that I will be in the NBA Draft. But I am not looking past anything, so first things first, which is playing for my national team."
Very much born into a basketball family in Bucharest where both parents represented their country, Moldoveanu is continuing the family tradition in fine style but did have to make tough choices a few years ago. He could have turned professional at a young age but instead, decided to opt for the College route and head to the States.
"It was my choice and my dream to play here since I was young. I had the option to turn pro at a young age but I chose not to in order to pursue my dream and I never thought that I made the wrong decision."
|Vlad Moldoveanu will try to lead Romania to a Division A promotion in the summers of 2010 and 2011.|
"Yes, I faced adversity and my road was not smooth but I think I am making the most of it and I am having fun doing it. I have never thought back about my decision not to turn pro. I knew that once I make that decision, I would turn the page right after and move on and not think about it."
Having decided not to continue his development in his homeland as a young player but to move abroad, Moldoveanu doesn't believe it is necessarily the best route for everyone. He is sensitive to the challenges faced by the Federation in the past and is hoping their hard work of focusing on young players will reap rewards in future years - even if individual clubs themselves still have something to learn.
"The biggest barrier has been not investing in youth and not investing right. Every sponsor wants results fast, but to build a good basketball club it needs to start with the youth, because that will give any club a solid base of selection for the senior team and then there will be some continuity. f you do not invest money and hours of training then how do you expect to be good?"
" I know the federation started programs but those results will not be seen for a couple of years, so I am waiting to see how the younger kids do now that they have the adequate training and the conditions to perform at a high level."
Whatever pathway the future stars of basketball in Romania decide to take, they could all certainly benefit from following their new role-model in terms of his mentality. For Moldoveanu is one player whose determination and positivity might just ensure in the longer term that it is the boys who are better than the girls.
"I think people underestimate our National team just because we are young but we have a lot to prove and I think this is one of our best generations in a while. We are ready to prove people wrong and get Romania back to the elite of the European Basketball."