By Dimitris Kontos
|"If you are not on the podium, then it's not important" states Krunoslav Simon|
"The most important thing is not winning, but taking part," Baron Pierre de Coubertin famously argued in favour of the necessity to revive the Olympic Games in 1896.
An enormous amount of things has changed in the 117 years that followed the first modern Olympics, and sport is certainly one of them.
Krunoslav Simon of Croatia is a 21st century sportsman.
Since the European Championship for Cadets in 2001, he has reported for national duty every time he was called upon, and pulled on the red and white shirt much in the same spirit the ancient Greeks represented their home city in the Olympics.
The main difference is that basketball is his full-time job, and he plays to win.
If you think this mentality applies only when he suits up for Unicaja Malaga in the Spanish Liga Endesa and the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, just ask him what would make him happy at the upcoming EuroBasket in Slovenia.
"For me, only a medal," Simon replies swiftly.
"For me, if you are not in the top three teams in a big championship like that, then it's the same if you finish in seventh place, or fourteenth, or last," he admits to FIBAEurope.com.
"If you're not on the podium, then it's not important."
Simon cannot make it more clear that he is only expressing his personal view.
But he also experienced in person the disappointment of EuroBasket 2011, when Croatia failed to come out of an -a priori- accessible First Round group that included F.Y.R. of Macedonia, Greece, Finland, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He is aware the goal sounds ambitious, but to him that September in Lithuania is ancient history now, it might as well have happened at the same time as the first Games in Olympia over 25 centuries ago.
Simon only looks forward, and he has his reasons.
"You know, in Croatia they don't believe in our team and we must do everything to change that from the first game," he offers.
"I am sure we can do it, we have great players and we will have a great team this year.
"I hope there will be a lot of our fans in Slovenia because it's so close [to Croatia] and I wish they come in numbers to support us.
"If that happens, it will be a huge plus for us."
THE COUNTER IS BACK TO ZERO
The national team's fantastic showing in last summer's Qualification Round, where Croatia topped Group C with a perfect 8-0 record, does not seem to have change the perception of a demanding public back home, where history will always weight heavily.
Croatia is a nation where every man, woman and child knows their basketball and has seen legends like Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc or Dino Radja fight as equals against the original USA Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics final.
|Will the current generation of Croatia internationals be able to step out of the shadow of the likes of Toni Kukoc?|
As one would expect, the Qualification Round campaign is already old news to the 27-year-old guard as well.
"We played well, but we are not satisfied with that, we have already forgotten about it.
"Those were just games you have to win to go and play at the EuroBasket.
"The real thing is in Slovenia, and the counter now is back to zero."
The no-nonsense Simon does not mince his words or dwell on the past, but that does noes not mean he is not a realist.
The Zagreb-born player points out the first item of business for Croatia at EuroBasket 2013 will be to advance from First Round Group C, that includes Georgia, Poland, the Czech Republic, hosts Slovenia and none other than the two-time EuroBasket champions, Spain.
"The best would be to play against them [Spain] in the final," he says with disarming honesty.
"But it's not possible! [to get this from a draw].
"It will no doubt be a tough group, there is six great teams and we have both the home team and the European champions.
"I think we will need one win from those two games [against Slovenia and Spain] to make it to the Second Round, and will all the other games, of course.
"It wont be easy to be in the top three but I think we will have a great team.
"We will prepare well for the tournament, so I am sure we can do something good."
Maybe good enough to write a page of -modern, of course- Croatian basketball history.