|11 February 2014|
|Georgia are already familiar with 2nd Qualification Round rivals, Czech Republic, having played them at EuroBasket 2013|
By Dimitris Kontos
There is only a handful of certainties in the life of a globe-trotting player who left his homeland as a teenager to pursue his basketball dreams and can be here one day, gone the next.
Georgian forward Viktor Sanikidze, who has lived in five different European countries and also spent one year in the United States, is entirely certain of two things and they both have to do with the same country.
The first is which of all the places he's seen so far, the one he will choose to return to once his basketball days are over.
"Georgia, definitely, there is no question about that," Sanikidze told fibaeurope.com without a moment of contemplation.
"[It will be in] Tbilisi, because first of all my family and all my close friends are there.
"I cannot imagine living without my family and friends and although I am not married yet, I can guarantee you I will go back to Tbilisi."
Luckily for basketball fans there is still a long way to go until Sanikidze calls it a day and in the meantime his second certainty has to do with an important forthcoming mission.
Namely, Georgia's assignment to advance in the summer from EuroBasket 2015 2nd Qualification Round Group E, which also includes the Czech Republic, Portugal and Hungary.
"We were all waiting for the draw and we were happy with it because I think we are in a group that we have a really good chance to advance from," the Georgian forward said firmly.
"I think that we are the favourites, it seems like we are one of the strongest teams in this draw.
"So I am pretty sure we will qualify [to EuroBasket] for the third time."
There is one opponent in Group E that Georgia know quite well. The Czech Republic delivered one of their best performances in recent years to defeat the Georgians 95-79 and eliminate them from the race for qualification to the Second Round in last September's EuroBasket.
"Yes, Czech Republic is the main rival, because they beat us at EuroBasket and for sure we still remember that," Sanikidze admits.
"We are playing the first game at home against them (on 10th August) so it's going to be a big thing for us.
"We have to get some payback."
THIRD TIME A CHARM
|Sanikidze points to Zaza Pachulia (pictured) and Tornike Shengelia as key players, if Georgia are to qualify for EuroBasket 2015|
Georgia have come a long way in basketball during the last four years.
In the run-up to EuroBasket 2013, Sanikidze's main concern was for the national team to solidify themselves among the European elite, following a first appearance at the big event in Lithuania, in 2011.
Now, he allows himself to think even past the summer qualification campaign and ponder what a full-strength Georgia can achieve at the EuroBasket in Ukraine, provided the likes of Zaza Pachulia and Tornike Shengelia are back in the team.
"Last time [at EuroBasket 2013] we had a lot of injured players and I hope that we all get together this time and we can all play," Sanikidze said.
"We are friends [with Pachulia and Shengelia], we talk a lot to each other and we agree that we have a big chance.
"[From then on] It's not going to be easy at EuroBasket.
"When we are all together we are a pretty strong team and we could qualify from the [First Round] group also, this is what I hope, for everyone to be healthy so we can have a good EuroBasket."
One component of the Georgian national team that is unlikely to return however is Serbian head coach Igor Kokoskov, and Sanikidze himself is anxious to learn who will be pacing the sidelines in the Qualification Round.
"That is the big question now because we don't know yet, so first we have to see who the coach is going to be," the CAI Zaragoza player said.
"But you know, our main group [of players] has been together for like six or seven years now and we know each other so well, so the coach's job is really not going to be that crazy.
"It's going to be pretty easy for him to direct us, although nothing is exactly easy, but for sure it will be easier for him because we've been playing together a long time."
Kokoskov steered Georgia into both EuroBasket 2011 and EuroBasket 2013, the nation's first huge events. Has his tenure left a legacy?
"Yeah, definitely," Sanikidze replies swiftly.
"For sure personally I appreciate his job and I've always said that the Georgian people in general have to appreciate what he's done for basketball in our country."
GEORGIAN CONNECTION IN ZARAGOZA
|Some claim that Sanikidze is right now in the best vein of form of his career |
Sanikidze is back in Spain this season following a long spell in Italy, with Virtus Bologna and Montepaschi Siena, and posting one excellent display after the next for Zaragoza in both the Liga Endesa and the Eurocup.
He first played in Spain in 2006, with historical Madrid club Estudiantes, but this weekend he got his first taste of the Iberian flagship competition, the Copa del Rey.
"It's a different experience for me now, I really didn't expect the Copa del Rey to be such a huge thing, it's not like this in Italy," he said.
"So I am really excited to be a part of this and I was even more pleased that we made the semi-finals, nobody expected us to make it."
Zaragoza defeated hosts Unicaja Malaga 79-74 in the quarter-finals, behind 12 points and eight rebounds from Sanikidze, but fell to eventual champions Real Madrid in the semi-final.
"Against Real it was very difficult for us, Sanikidze explained.
"They are one of the best teams in Europe and they have some of the best players in Europe, so it is tough to play against them."
The athletic Georgian who can play at both forward spots, contribute rebounds, block shots and can shoot from long distance or drive to the basket and finish at the rim, turns 28 in April.
|Viktor Sanikidze played a key role over the weekend in getting Zaragoza tot he Copa del Rey semi-finals|
Some say that right now he is in the best moments of his career as a player.
"I don't know, it's really difficult to say," Sanikidze comments modestly.
"I just try to perform the best I can for my team and then you need your team to have a successful season.
"So let's see how far we'll go with Zaragoza and if we have success, that's what I am looking for.
"Then I will be a good player as well. You need to ask me this question again at the end of the season!"
Sanikidze is not short on praise however of another Georgian international who is turning heads this season, his team-mate Giorgi Shermadini.
"He is looking really good, he is doing a great job," Sanikdze said of the 24-year-old center.
"He is in the right place now because in the past years he didn't get enough playing time.
"It's important for him to play and now he gets 25 minutes on average, that's what he needs.
"I am pretty confident he will have a great future."