Croatian Happiness, Turkish Promise

06.07.2011

PAULBALL

Paul NilsenPaul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various websites and publications across Europe. If you'd like to contact Paul you can e-mail him at paulballnilsen@gmail.com.


It had a motto of 'expect the unexpected' and was so packed with surprises, it was almost predictably unpredictable.

Yes, EuroBasket Women 2011 was certainly a tournament that will live long in the memory and while ultimately it was a familiar face in the form of the mighty Russia who topped the podium, a number of other new teams on the block grabbed a sizeable chunk of the limelight.

In the first of a two-part review of EuroBasket Women 2011, it's time to reflect on the magical efforts of both Croatia and Turkey.

 

Sandra Mandir (Croatia)
Croatia captain Sandra Mandir showed the way to the rest of her team, who had to battle through adversity and bad luck. They were rewarded by clinching the all-important fifth spot

Happiness In Hrvatska

Congratulations to Russia, well done to Turkey on their silver medal and maximum respect to Montenegro for a sixth place finish despite only having thirty something registered women players in the entire country.

However, for me, the team of the tournament was Croatia.

Even with a full strength team, Croatia would not have been fancied to make the last eight and certainly would not have been favoured to take the much coveted fifth spot and seal a place at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament next summer.

So, to accomplish this feat was superb but to do it without three (yes count them) of probably your best four players was a sensational accomplishment which I truly don't believe we have quite managed to appreciate.

Croatia was written off before the tournament by most people including myself. Well, I was absolutely wrong and happy to admit it.

Not only did they lose Marija Vrsaljko and Anda Jelavic before the competition started, they then lost the hugely influential Ana Lelas too.

However, propelled by the irrepressible Sandra Mandir and with big contributions from the likes of Iva Ciglar, Croatia fought hard, always seemed to bounce back from heavy losses and showed incredible heart to finish where they did.

It wasn't always pretty or easy on the eye. In fact at times it was really ugly but they did what they needed to do. Both the guts and court smarts they showed in adversity were tremendous.

It's perhaps a shame that after such a great performance they won't get the attention they deserve back home.

I really hope that as a nation, Croatia sits up and takes notice of not only the performance of the girls at this tournament, but also appreciate that Women's basketball needs more support.

A change of mentality to ensure Women's basketball in Croatia gets more exposure and recognition would be true reward for the National Team.

In a country with great passion for basketball and sport in general, I truly hope both the mainstream media and mainstream fans can get behind the team ahead of next year's Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

 

Voting For Vardarli

I was simply astonished that very few of my media colleagues at EuroBasket Women voted for Birsel Vardarli in their All-Tournament team. I had already written a feature about how she doesn't get the recognition she deserves and her subsequent omission from the line-up only served to highlight the issue.

For me, she was excellent and it would have been highly embarrassing had she led her team to gold in the Final and not received the votes required to make the All-Tournament Team.

I would pay to see Vardarli play anytime and anywhere. She has impeccable shot clock management, a fearless approach to the game and a superb basketball IQ.

6. Birsel Vardarli (Turkey)
Much to Paul's dismay, Birsel Vardarli did not get enough votes to make the All-Tournament team, but there were no doubts about the importnance of her contribution to Turkey's succesful run

I just love watching her play because at times you can almost feel her brain calculating all of the options as she stays ice cool, even when the 24 seconds have almost evaporated. Then, in stark contrast, she does many other things so beautifully instinctively.

The two plays she made back to back against France was the high point of the tournament for me. The one handed miracle three-point shot and then the gloriously gutsy move to the hoop next time down. I could seriously watch those two specific and memorable plays over and over and over again and the truth is, I actually did.

Turkey is very fortunate to have a playmaker of this quality that can spearhead their challenge for the next few years.

 

Sorry To Ceyhun

Last season I was one of the biggest critics of Galatasaray when I was writing about EuroLeague Women.

I thought they had a terrible season and underachieved. Consequently the jury was out on Ceyhun Yildizoglu at EuroBasket Women.

After a disastrous start against Lithuania, he was under pressure but I am very happy to say that he shoved the words of his critics back down their throats.

As one of them, I am happy to choke and apologise to Ceyhun for not having faith! He did a really good job with his team and conducted himself with great dignity throughout the tournament.

I was very impressed and I wish him well for the future.

 

Turkish Promise

While on the topic of Turkey, I think this is an exciting time to be a Turkish player or fan. Women's basketball is experiencing a meteoric rise at club level due to the basketball equivalent of a ‘space race' between Fenerbahce and Galatasary to succeed in EuroLeague Women.

Now the National Team has made history to further build both momentum and profile, the signs are good.

The next three years will be particularly exciting. There is a potential Olympic Games qualification, followed by another good chance of a EuroBasket Women medal during 2013 in France and then the 2014 FIBA World Championship which Turkey will be hosting.

I am genuinely excited for Turkish basketball but I must also temper this with one huge note of caution. Just because they found success at EuroBasket Women 2011 and took the silver medal, this doesn't mean they are now an elite Women's basketball nation.

It's one silver medal for which they deserve credit, but this is all it is - a first medal, a first step. It is very important to remember just how tough it is in Women's basketball to make the podium and challenge for medals on a consistent basis.

Therefore with this in mind, Turkish fans and the Federation need to be realistic and manage expectations sensibly. The players did brilliantly but they really don't need the additional pressure of unrealistic expectations being heaped upon them.

I still can't figure out whether they simply played to their potential at EuroBasket Women 2011 or actually overachieved.

Time will tell.


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