|30 August 2013|
|Veteran Lubos Barton and youngster Tomas Satoransky are both included in the Czech EuroBasket squad|
The Czech national team's nickname is 'Lions' but at the EuroBasket 2013 Draw, back in the winter, they must have felt like they were the ones that were pitted against the kings of the jungle.
The Czechs were drawn in Group C together with reigning European champions Spain, hosts Slovenia, Croatia, Poland and Georgia, and many dismissed them immediately as the team that stood no chance in this company to advance to the Second Round.
That was then.
Now, with just five days remaining to the start of the big event in Slovenia, the Czech Republic are healthy, happy and are feeling like probably the luckiest of all 24 teams in the competition.
"We are not going to the EuroBasket to lose five games," warned Czech captain Lubos Barton on Wednesday.
"The atmosphere in the team is similar to 1999.
"We have the best team in recent years and although we can still improve, we can certainly spring a surprise."
Barton was only 19, and the team's top scorer and rebounder, at EuroBasket 1999 in France, when the Czechs defeated powerhouses Lithuania and Greece in their first two games and advanced to the next phase in the competition.
Guard Jiri Welsch, another of the 1999 youngsters, will also travel to Slovenia and play in one more EuroBasket, 14 years later.
But Czech head coach Pavel Budinsky did not include the two veterans, or indeed any other player on the EuroBasket squad, out of necessity brought upon by injuries or unforeseen problems.
Budinsky is in fact one of the very few coaches at the EuroBasket that could pick any player he wanted on his team and chose exactly the 12 he preferred.
The only serious injury problem the Czechs faced during preparations was resolved almost unexpectedly, and just in time to boost the players' confidence that everything seems to fall into place for the team this summer.
Big man Petr Benda left training camp at the beginning of August, as it seemed improbable he would overcome a problem that had dogged him since the mid-point of last club season.
But the therapy the 31-year-old was submitted to during three weeks produced miraculous results and he re-joined his team-mates just before the Czechs departed for Belgium to play their last two preparation games ahead of the EuroBasket.
"I feel absolutely healthy, if I was not 100% I would not be here now," a delighted Benda said.
|Petr Benda was back in action for the Czech Republic, playing in both friendlies against Belgium |
He contributed nine points on Thursday night, in the Czech Republic's 83-68 victory over Belgium on the road.
The rejuvenated Barton paved the way for the Czechs with 17 points, point guard Tomas Satoransky added 14 points and David Jelinek finished with 12 points.
For Belgium, forward Wen Mukubu had 17 points and center Yannick Driesen had 15 points in losing efforts.
The Belgians however were playing without Sam Van Rossom, Christophe Beghin, Maxime De Zeeuw and Sacha Massot, who are all nursing minor injuries.
"I'm happy that we've won our last friendly game and I think the reason for the victory was yesterday's [Wednesday] defeat," Budinsky said (Belgium defeated the Czechs 72-59 in the first warm-up game between the two sides).
"We took a lot of different decisions a little better, we were more prepared and the players showed more commitment and desire.
"A positive aspect of our game was the re-incorporation of Petr Benda.
"On the other hand, we kept Jiri Welsch, who has a minor injury, out of the game so we do not run any risks.
"We have had no problems and now the EuroBasket awaits us."
Czech Republic final 12-man squad for EuroBasket 2013: Tomáš Satoranský, Jiří Welsch, Jakub Kudláček, Vojtěch Hruban, Pavel Pumprla, David Jelínek, Luboš Bartoň, Jan Veselý, Ondřej Balvín, Petr Benda, Pavel Houška and Kamil Švrdlík.