|Poland big man Marcin Gortat is hungry for success|
CAN COACH BAUERMANN TRANSFER A WINNING MENTALITY TO POLAND?
Poland has a new coach and all players committed to play. With Marcin Gortat and Maciej Lampe mounting under the basket, can they climb to the quarter-finals?
Polish basketball has been through hard times in the past 15 years since achieving a sensational 7th place at EuroBasket 1997 in Spain. Things then went from bad to worse, with no EuroBasket presence until 2007 before hitting the bottom in 2005, when they dropped to the now defunct Division B.
Fortunately for Polish basketball, Poland was granted the rights to host EuroBasket 2009, so it was given a wild card to Division A in 2007, from where they were able to earn qualification on their own merit to the Final Round. Since then, they have been present in every major European tournament.
The presence was marked by some single surprising games, exemplified by defeating Lithuania in 2009 and Turkey in 2011. It was not enough to please fans in Poland though, who are hungry for better results, as they are used to getting medals in major tournaments in volleyball and handball.
But everybody feels good vibes in 2013 as Poland looks surprisingly sharp and fans have some reasons to hope for bigger things. First, there is a new coach, German Dirk Bauermann, who brings medal experience and basketball knowledge not seen at the post of Polish national team coach since Witold Zagorski, who led Poland to one silver and two bronzes at EuroBaskets as well as three Olympic and one World Championships berths, left in 1975.
Also, unlike in the last three years, all the best players are in. It does not hurt that they are also experiencing the best form of their careers to date. The leaders are Marcin Gortat and Maciej Lampe, who are amongst the best centers in NBA and Euroleague respectively and it looks like they can form a two-headed monster under the basket that most will struggle to match up to.
Thomas Kelati is premier wing player, playing in major clubs in Europe. A veteran of Spanish, Russian and Italian Leagues, Michal Ignerski still can do it all on the wings while Lukasz Koszarek and Przemyslaw Zamojski tasted the Euroleague with Asseco Prokom Gdynia and are among the best players in the Polish League.
Finally, there is a young generation, including 20-year-olds Mateusz Ponitka and Przemyslaw Karnowski, who can learn from the veterans as well as put in fresh energy, much needed on this level of competition.
Without Lampe and Kelati, Poland looked sharp in the 2012 Qualification Round, beating Finland and Belgium away to win the group. Gortat got some help there from a group of lesser known players, who benefited from Polish League rules, which call for at least two Polish players on the court at all times.
The Polish Federation copied the idea from the Russian League. There is no doubt everybody in Poland hopes it can bring Mr Bauermann and his boys the same result which Russia got in Madrid in 2007. Or at least it can help to organise a trip to the same location - Spain - for next year's basketball fiesta.