|Péter Lóránt believes Szolnoki Olaj are in a good position to push onto the next stage of the EuroChallenge |
By Rado Markovic
The Hungarian basketball school may not currenlty be amongst the European elite, but when speaking of EuroChallenge, one should always pay attention to Szolnoki Olaj and this year has been no different.
To date, the Hungarian club is enjoying a successful European campaign and are in a good position to reach the playoffs and perhaps even repeat their success from the 2011/12 season, when they went all the way to the EuroChallenge Final Four. This said, the Hungarian side was not strong enough to surprise Krka last Tuesday night on the road in Novo mesto, but the situation remains favourable for them.
Péter Lóránt, one of the most experienced men in the squad led by Serbian tactician Dragan Aleksić, regarded the only positive note to come out of Tuesday's loss is that both they and Krka, who also play each other in the Adriatic League, remain in strong positions to advance to the quarter-finals.
"Despite a sloppy beginning to both halves, we still had a chance to win the game, but we did not succeed. However, we are happy that we didn't lose by more than 17 points."
In reference to the 17 points, the 2.06m big man explains: "The situation for us is great, as we will advance [to the quarter-finals], should we win our last game at home against Cholet. Everything is in our hands.
"It is important for us to win the first place in this group," continued Lóránt, who is now flirting with the idea of his team repeating their best success ever in Europe. "In that case we would gain a home court advantage in the quarter-finals. We play a lot better at home, where we have the great support of our fans, so our Final Four chances completely depend on this."
Szolnoki Olaj players and their fans have every reason to be optimistic one game out from the completion of EuroChallenge Last 16 phase, as their game continues to improve and so does their success curve. Following a heavy defeat in their opening game of the second phase at the hands of Reggio Emilia, they won three consecutive games before having the streak halted on the road in Slovenia.
|The return of Obie Trotter to Szolnok has been a big boost for the Hungarian club|
The upward success trend started with the change of the head coach position, as former assistant coach Aleksić replaced Nedeljko Asceric, which was followed by the arrival of several reinforcements like Justin Holiday, Strahinja Milosevic and fan favourite Obie Trotter, who returned 'home' after a year-and-a-half away.
"The level of our performances has significantly improved in recent weeks," said an agreeable Lorant, before shedding light on the reason why: "We changed the coach and this always turns out to be a positive thing. Not because our former coach was bad, but it's a psychological thing. Typically teams tend to start playing better when faced with this type of scenario, as did we. We won the Hungarian National Cup and in the toughest group in the EuroChallenge Top 16 we have a great chance of advancing to the playoffs."
The Hungarians are hoping that they can raise the level of their performances further, when their latest reinforcement returns to court after an injury. He was an x-factor the last time he wore a Szolnok jersey and if he catches his rhythm soon, they can hope for the repeat of the Cinderella story from the 2011/12 season. "We hope for Obie (Trotter) to be back as soon as possible and it is expected to happen in two or three weeks," explains the Hungarian national team senior, adding, "he is an excellent player and a good person, so I hope that he comes back in good shape. He is a true team player. He can shoot, he can push the ball, he can give us a lot of things."
BREAKING THE NEGATIVE TRADITION
|Péter Lóránt knows Hungary are not the favourites in their 2nd Qualification Round Group, but holds hope of his team pushing for a spot at EuroBasket 2015 should their best 15 players turn out|
As the most successful Hungarian club of recent time and with the crop of the national team on their roster, Szolnoki Olaj is of exceptional importance to Hungarian basketball. Not only because of the fact that the core of the national team has the opportunity to play together throughout the season, but also for the fact, that younger players have a chance to taste the top level of basketball in Europe, by competing in tough competitions such as EuroChallenge and the ABA League.
"Some of our players have never played in European competitions before, especially the younger ones and now they can experience how it is to play against the top-level European players, how is it to play with international referees and their criteria of officiating. This means a lot to us and I think that we are going to gain a lot from this in the following years," offers Lóránt, who doesn't want to concentrate only on the future, when speaking about the national team, but hopes to celebrate a new success as early as this summer.
Several weeks ago, Hungary received their opponents for the EuroBasket 2015 Second Qualifying Round and as he pointed out - the goal for them is clear. Hungary hasn't been a part of major international tournaments since 1999, when they finished 13th at EuroBasket in France. Now, the power forward, who averaged 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in the EuroBasket 2013 Qualifying Round, is aware that they cannot be considered as the favourites, but at the same time insists that they cannot be taken lightly if they manage to pull all of their best players together.
"For us there is no easy group. If everybody is available for the summer, then we have the means to surprise, but we certainly are not the favourites here and this is our reality. I do not know, who is going to play for Georgia or Czech Republic, but I hope that we can break our 14-year negative tradition and qualify for the tournament in Ukraine," concluded Lorant, who hopes to be one of those 14 players.