|Paul Nilsen is a freelance basketball journalist writing for various web-sites and publications across Europe. If you would like to contact Paul you can e-mail him here firstname.lastname@example.org.|
After a six year spell in the wilderness prior to 2009, Slovak Republic have secured back to back appearances at EuroBasket Women but their chances of success in Poland already look slim due to a worrying injury crisis.
It's a list that no coach wants placed on their desk but head coach Natalia Hejkova must be sick of counting the numbers of confirmed and potential absentees in recent weeks. Ravaged by injuries, it's already looking like an uphill struggle in Group A before even a ball has been bounced in anger.
Still, it's not like Slovak Republic don't already know what it's like to have to do things the hard way. They were without their star performer Zuzana Zirkova last summer during the Qualifying Round and still managed to clinch a place at the table - even if it was a pretty bumpy ride at times.
Unfortunately Zirkova will be absent again this summer and so this means that, having taken the reins from Pokey Chatman, Hejkova will not be able to call upon her most talented player to help bail her team out of a jam or execute game winning plays.
|Slovakia's chances at the EuroBasket Women will largely depend on Luisa Michulková being fully fit|
Without a true difference maker like Zirkova, the Slovak Republic team really do have to step up as a unit but unfortunately even Plan B is potentially in tatters with several other key players either having already been ruled out or still seriously sweating on their fitness ahead of the big tip-off.
She may be vastly experienced but even the legendary Hejkova could find life tough during what is her second term in charge of the National Team. At least she does have the considerable advantage of having effectively worked alongside Pokey Chatman in recent times and indeed she was instrumental in bringing the American into the set-up in the first place. In this respect, a certain degree of synergy has been assured and she will have a good understanding of the skills and mentality of the current players both individually and collectively.
In addition to this, the bulk of the team have played together with perennial champions Good Angels Kosice at some point as well as being on the National Team together for several years and consequently this is likely to ensure a reasonable degree of chemistry on the floor. Quite whether they have enough genuine quality to progress is another thing altogether.
Last year it was the rock steady Luisa Michulkova who reiterated that Slovak Republic are not a one player team and she's definitely a player who should be fired up and raring to go having missed out on the experience in Latvia two years ago due to an ACL injury. However, the injury curse has struck again in the last few weeks with the guard one of the players struggling to be fully fit after problems with an iron deficiency in her blood - although thankfully this time at least, she has more than a fighting chance of making it.
Even Ivana Jalcova, the choice of captain has been sidelined with a hamstring problem and it's fair to say that if they step onto the floor without three of their most experienced and key performers, they could be in big trouble.
Perhaps memories of how they made a spash at EuroBasket 2009 could be enough to convince this team of the possibilities which lie in store and perhaps Hejkova can remind her players that while it will be difficult, there is no reason they can't spring something of a surprise once again.
While a return to the halcyon days of the nineties when Slovak Republic found themselves on the podium on more than one occasion is going to be way beyond them, their track record of finishing in the top eight and making the quarter-finals means they can't be discounted.
Last Time Out: Slovak Republic finished 8th at EuroBasket Women 2009.
Key Player: If Luisa Michulkova does find full fitness and wins her race to be back firing on all cylinders (not just managing to get onto the floor) then she can fire her team to at least a point where they can be competitive. She was joint top scorer during Qualifying and will again make use of her athleticism to run the open floor while her shooting and leadership qualities will also be hugely important.
Sleeper: Slovak Republic can't afford to hope a sleeper comes through and emerges at EuroBasket Women 2011. They need several players to emerge and really step things up if they want to progress!
X Factor: Tempo. They can't rely on as many as 10-15 points per game from Zirkova and this means they may be be reluctant to get involved in a shootout with teams since they just don't have the ammunition to win that kind of battle. They do have shooters of course but they need to keep things really scrappy and grind out a win. They may possible set out their stall as being difficult to beat rather than playing a free-flowing transitional game and taking the initiative.
Did You Know? Not being able to coach Zuzana Zirkova at this tournament is a particular disappointment for Coach Hejkova since the guard worked under her when Zirkova originally joined the National Team, way back at the start of her career.
In Just Five Words: Injuries could seriously damage progress.