By David Hein
|In civilian clothes was the only way Czech fans could spot Jan Vesely in previous summers, but a return to national team action seems more likely this time around|
One of the Czech Republic's best basketball players of all time, Lubos Barton said high expectations on the nation's only current NBA player Jan Vesely at EuroBasket 2013 would not be fair to him as the team looks to take the next step in its development.
"Obviously, it's not good having a player with an important role on the team not really having played the whole season," said Barton of Vesely, who has averaged just 2.6 points and 2.3 rebounds over 38 games for the Washington Wizards in his second season in the NBA.
"He would have to come in and see how he fits in. But you cannot expect a guy who has not played all season to come here and play like [Manu] Ginobili for Argentina or [Tony] Parker for France or Dirk [Nowitzki] for Germany. It would not be fair for him."
Barton, who played at EuroBaskets 1999 and 2007 added that the rest of the Czech players will still have to play well in support of Vesely.
"The rest of the guys have to help him out and not put too much pressure on him that he has to come back and prove himself," said Barton, who played in the NCAA Tournament three times with Valparaiso University before returning to Europe and playing major roles with Italian and Spanish teams for a decade, including winning the 2006 EuroCup and 2008 ULEB Cup with Joventut Badalona and reaching the 2009 Euroleague Final Four with FC Barcelona.
"The rhythm of the game is a funny thing. You lose it pretty quick. You can have an injury or a coach that doesn't play you and within a couple of months you are not playing half as good as you were before."
Vesely, who played for Euroleague side Partizan Belgrade from 2008 to 2011 before going to the NBA, last played for the Czech national team in the Relegation Round of EuroBasket 2009 that saw the Czechs being relegated to Division B.
"Jan would obviously give us a great boost at both forward positions and center. He's extremely versatile and athletic. He doesn't have the shot, which I think is hurting his chances to be a great player in the NBA right now. He didn't do much improvement, and that's why he's not playing."
The 22-year-old forward Vesely was not on board for national team coach Pavel Budinsky's team last summer when Barton and fellow veterans Jiri Welsch and Petr Benda teamed together with the country's emerging group of young talent - Tomas Satoransky, Ondrej Balvin and David Jelinek - to qualify for Slovenia by taking third place in Group F behind Italy and Turkey, including a victory at home over Turkey.
Barton's dedication to the national team cannot be questioned, especially after playing for the Czechs in 2011 in Division B and helping them move up.
|Looking for a couple of wins at EuroBasket 2013: Lubos Barton|
"Division B was kind of a new experience for me. I didn't like it. But we started the program with the coach and a group of guys who really wanted to play and wanted to go back and not just play in Division A but also make it to EuroBasket," said Barton, who moved this season from USK Prague to German club New Yorker Phantoms Braunschweig.
Now that they've reached Europe's biggest spectacle, the Czechs have been drawn into Group C along with hosts Slovenia, Poland, Spain, Georgia and Croatia.
"It's not an easy group. Spain will be one of the finalists with France on paper. Obviously, Slovenia will be strong at home and want to get a medal. Those two, I don't think we have much chance of beating," said Barton.
"Croatia might be a little better on paper but that doesn't mean that we cannot play with them. All these teams like Georgia and Poland are teams that are capable of good results if they have everybody. The group is playable. But first we need to take care of our business and come to Slovenia in as good as shape as possible."
Barton said it really doesn't make much sense for the Czechs to have big expectations for Slovenia. But that doesn't mean they should be thinking defeats.
"We are not one of the favorites. If we lose, people are going to say that's pretty much what we were supposed to do. But I think we should not go there with this losing mentality. I think we can surprise some teams. I think if we can win two games that would be great. Making it to the next round I think would need three wins. That will be difficult. But if we can get two wins I would be happy. I would be content with that."
One of the main things for the Czechs will be to develop the program in giving big roles to the country's younger players.
"It's the next step. Satoransky will be a better player given his minutes and role with Cajasol Sevilla. Same with Balvin (also Cajasol), who is one of the raw talents as a big guy. He's getting some minutes now," said Barton, who hopes Jelinek can get some playing time after moving from Turkish side Olin Edirne to Spanish Euroleague club Caja Laboral.
"Gelling the new talent with the old, experienced guys is going to be a little bit of a challenge, but I think we're going to make it happen."
Barton adds that there's no other real option.
"There is not much else left. We have to go with what we have. I think we can squeeze the most out of this."