|Roko Ukic will make a welcome return to the Croatian team after injury forced him out of the previous EuroBasket |
No More Need For Dreaming?
A nation that has long lived off past glory days hopes to put a definite end to a long run of selling-out their once impeccable reputation. After hitting the bottom two years ago when they failed to move past the First Round for the first time ever, Croatia believe the path can finally only lead back up.
A formidable force in the early 1990s, carried to glory by legends like Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, and Dino Radja, Croatia claimed Olympic silver in 1992, but currently is riding an 18-year jinx that has them failing to reach the podium ever since EuroBasket 1995.
During the current medal drought, the national team has been torturing Croatian fans, coming within a whisker of entering the medal zone on four different EuroBaskets, but never managed to move into the semis. It is hard to tell which quarter-finals defeat was more heart-breaking, whether it was overtime losses to Turkey in 2001, or Spain in 2005, or whether it was a blown double-digit lead against Slovenia in 2009.
Equally painful, but also embarrassing and demoralising was the disastrous campaign two years ago that had Croatia miss the Second Round in Lithuania.
For Croatia, time has come to clean the slate, and erase the thoughts of glorious moments, as well as the painful defeats.
To start earning back some of the lost respect and become once again a fearsome foe, Croatian hopes rely on some familiar faces, but also new stars that have been emerging out of an unfailing talent-pool that has been amazingly productive lately, making Croatia one of the most successful nations at youth level in the past four years.
That suggests there actually is light at the end of the tunnel, but the likes of Dario Saric, Mario Delas or Mario Hezonja - all former MVPs of either youth World or European championships - cannot come fast enough onto the big scene for Croatia.
Some of them will make their debut at this tournament to compliment the squad that is missing veterans Zoran Planinic and Marko Popovic, but arguably still has all the pieces necessary. The job to put them all into the right place belongs again to Jasmin Repesa, a man who was an assistant coach with the national team last time Croatia put metal around their necks.
He also is the one who returned Croatia back to both the Olympic Games and the World Championships, and now in his second cycle wants to, at least, do a repeat. His team will rely on Bojan Bogdanovic scoring from the perimeter, and Ante Tomic inside, while benefiting greatly from Roko Ukic, who missed the last EuroBasket with an injury, running the point guard position.
Importantly, the players instantly bought into Repesa's system, and most of them have extensive experience playing under him either on club level or for the national team and If there was something to learn from Repesa's teams in the past, Croatia will go as far as their defence takes them.
If they avoid another upset, and move past the First Round, Croatia will have as good of a chance as anyone of getting into the medal zone.