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Malta's Cassar A Permanent Fixture With Promotion Cup

06.06.2006
By David Broome, PA Sport

After nearly two decades of playing basketball for his country, Malta veteran Silvio Cassar is anything but a dreamer.

He has never plied his trade far from the shores of the Mediterranean island, but the part-time schoolteacher knows a thing or two about hoops.

The 35-year-old made his debut in 1988 at the first Promotion Cup and this week saw him take part in his ninth competition.

That's why the Promotion Cup is so important, it has given me the chance to play against players I have seen on TV ...
Silvio Cassar
At Saturday's closing ceremony, a visibly touched Cassar received a special award for his years of play in the Promotion Cup.

"I missed one competition when I was injured, but I have always wanted to play," he said to PA Sport on behalf of FIBA Europe.

"But I do not know if I will be playing in the next one. I will be 37 and injuries take longer to get over. But I will try to be there."

The Promotion Cup has been a highlight on the calendar for smaller countries since it was first introduced 18 years ago.

It was created to give small countries a platform to play.

Despite Malta's also-ran status in the competition (they have never finished inside the top four of the eight competing teams), Cassar insists he looks forward to it every year - no matter what time of year the event is staged.

"In 1988 and 1990 we played in the winter and it was very cold, but in 1992 we played in the summertime, which was much better because we are used to playing in the hot weather," he said.

Big Changes

Europe has made giant strides in the game, with Serbia & Montenegro having won the last two FIBA World Championships and many European players like Dirk Nowitzki of Germany and both Tony Parker and Boris Diaw of France now international stars.

Cassar has watched those changes.

"European basketball is much bigger now, since the break-up of the USSR you have a lot of former Soviet countries and there is much more competition," he said.

"I prefer European basketball and I think it is on a similar level to the NBA now.

"There are a lot of Americans playing in Europe now and Europeans playing in the NBA so it is quite even."

Cassar's Start

"I got into the sport through my brother who played basketball for Malta as well and I started playing when I was 10," he said.

"My brother is now a very good basketball coach, and I would like to get into that myself. I am in a basketball nursery at the moment where I am learning to coach.

Cassar knows Malta, an island with a population of about 402,000, will never be among the giants in Europe.

"Maltese basketball is not very big, it is not professional and so we are limited in the amount of practice we get," he said.

"All of the players are students or have jobs in the mornings - I am a teacher for instance.

"We had a couple of American players in our team when we first started but since then we have only given spaces to Maltese players, because that is the only way for the sport to develop.

"Also Malta as a country is not very big, we only have a population of 400,000, compared to Moldova and Albania (other teams in the Promotions Cup) who have three to four million people.

"And there are a lot of other sports which are popular so we do not have a lot of players to choose from.

"And we are not a very tall nation either - most teams have two to three tall players who are over 2m but we have no-one (Cassar is the tallest player in the squad at 1.97m)."

Money Difficulties

The lack of financial resources is another issue.

"The main problem though is money," he said.

"We played an international friendly in Italy in 1999 but we all had to pay for our own transport and accommodation and it was too much for us to keep doing so.

"Now we don't play international friendlies any more.

"That's why the Promotion Cup is so important, it has given me the chance to play against players I have seen on TV, especially the San Marino players.

"I hope this will continue and I hope FIBA will give other countries the chance to compete in the basketball family."

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