|"...there will be at least twenty teams in Slovenia that want to reach the semi-finals," states Ales Pipan|
When the basketball federation of F.Y.R. Of Macedonia (MKF) decided they needed a coach with tons of EuroBasket experience and an understanding of the country's mentality in charge of their national team, they could not look past Ales Pipan.
The Slovenian tactician first served as an assistant on his native country's national team from 1998 to 2003, then as the head coach for almost four years, and took over at the Polish national side after EuroBasket 2009.
MKF approached him some time ago, but the agreement, that initially runs until next September's EuroBasket, was only made official on 17 January.
Once Pipan was certain that he and the Polish federation would go their separate ways, he did not hesitate a single moment in accepting the proposal.
"For me it's a big and nice challenge to be coaching a club (KK MZT Skopje Aerodrom) in this country and to also be the head coach of its national team," he told FIBAEurope.com
"[After Poland] I've found a federation and a country I want to do my job with, and the most important thing to me is that I will coach them at the EuroBasket."
In Pipan, F.Y.R. Of Macedonia got a package that includes much more than his CV suggests.
They have handed the reins to a coach with absolute faith in the project and the potential of his new team.
"My first goal here will be to complete the roster, to talk to the best players and make sure they come and play for the national team," he explained.
"Then to have an excellent preparation, a lot of good friendly games, to prepare in the best way possible.
"[If all this happens] we can then beat anyone; We could beat anyone in Europe."
PRESSURE, WHAT PRESSURE?
The F.Y.R of Macedonia national team gifted the young country with an enormously proud moment at EuroBasket 2011.
Under then coach Marin Dokuzovski, they reached the semi-finals, alongside traditional powerhouses Spain, France and Russia.
Pipan lives and works in Skopje and one can imagine fans have been asking him if he will deliver the same result this time around.
"The team did a great job in Lithuania, it was an enormous success for the country," Pipan admitted.
"It will be hard to repeat this result but there is no pressure whatsoever on me or on the team.
"The federation people have not given me a piece of paper to sign that we will do the same again.
"They know basketball, they know there will be at least twenty teams in Slovenia that want to reach the semi-finals."
Out of the 24 teams at European basketball's showcase event in September though, F.Y.R of Macedonia will be the only one with a Slovenian coach at the helm.
That is almost an afterthought to Pipan.
"Maybe we will have part of our preparations and some friendly games in Slovenia, but once the competition begins, it will make no difference," he said.
"For me it's the same if we play in Slovenia or if we play in Lithuania or wherever, I am a professional and I just want my team to win the next game.
"As for the players, the only important thing is that it's close to home and many fans will come to support us.
"It's close also to other countries in our group, so its going to be full of fans and a very good atmosphere for sure."
NO FRIENDS, NO FOES
With the exception of Lithuania and Latvia, First Round Group B looks in fact like a mini Balkan conference, with F.YR. Of Macedonia's neighbours, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina all drawn together.
"We don't know at the moment the rosters, we don't know which players will come and play," Pipan said about the opponents.
"But in any case, it is a very tough group, they are all excellent teams.
|Until we meet again. Bo McCalebb and F.Y.R. of Macedonia will again play Montenegro in the First Round|
"Each team there can beat anybody else, but also lose to anybody else.
"It is very tough and very balanced for everyone."
The proximity with some of the rivals also adds no extra spice to the group, the tactician insists.
"The players know each other, the coaches know one another, they've played many times against or together with each other, but it doesn't matter.
"Every player will be playing for his country and wants to do the best for his country.
"There is no friend or neighbour at this level of competition, there is only your national team.
Neither he nor the MKF know at this stage if their cooperation will continue after EuroBasket 2013, but in case this happens, Pipan already knows he would like to combine success with talent development.
"Every coach wants to win a medal at a EuroBasket," he admits, "but on the other hand there could be a big chance for me to give a chance to young players."
"I've done it in the past, to help them develop and give them an opportunity, but it is a very difficult combination."