|Barbora Bálintová and the Slovak Republic will not have to undergo the stressful process of the relegation round at this summer's U18 European Championship Women |
By Paul Nilsen
When Euroleague Women side Good Angels Kosice regretfully announced they would have to axe their second team, Dannax-Sport Kosice, it was a double-edged sword for aspiring Slovak Republic guard Barbora Balintova.
Having impressed with Dannax-Sport during her debut season, another campaign to continue that momentum and enhance her development would have been absolutely perfect.
But, with this opportunity now gone, Balintova will have to raise her game and prove that she has the potential to grab a spot with Good Angels Kosice in the longer term and is the kind of young talent who can compete at the elite level in EuroLeague Women.
With the Slovak Republic safely in the Second Round of the U18 European Championship Women in Bucharest, Balintova could take a moment to reflect on what might lie ahead when she returns home.
"I hope that I will get enough chances to play in the Slovak League with Good Angels and of course, playing in EuroLeague Women would be great for me," she said.
You wouldn't back against Balintova achieving that goal. From a young age she has always punched above her weight and can also rely on sport being very much in her blood.
"I think that I got my skills and passion for sport from my parents - my mum used to play handball when she was younger and my dad did karate.
"I had always been interested in sports. I started to do figure skating when I was four years old, but then I saw my older sister play basketball and I switched to it at the age of five.
"Then, at the age of six, I was the youngest registered basketball player in Slovakia!"
A DRIVEN FAMILY GIRL
Family and basketball is hugely important to Balintova who is never far away from her mum's side when a game is about to be played.
"I don't have any specific pre-game rituals but usually my mum kisses me before the game!"
When it comes to drawing inspiration, it's the sport itself which drives her on, although she is also buoyed by the senior national team having recently booked their spot at the EuroBasket Women in France.
"I don't really have one idol. I just like basketball as a game - I love it," Balintova explains
"But, I do take some inspiration from the way Ivana Jalcova plays basketball.
|Balintova has no role models but is still inspired by Ivana Jalcová, who plays at the same position in the senior Slovak team|
"I am also definitely very happy that our national team qualified for the EuroBasket Women next year."
"I hope they will be able to get good results there!"
THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS EXPERIENCE
As far as her experiences at the youth European Championships are concerned, Balintova has certainly shown she can stand toe-to-toe and compete with older girls without a hint of being overawed.
Last summer, she took the floor at the U20 European Championship Women in Serbia even though she was aged just sixteen going to seventeen.
"I was really happy getting the chance to play in Novi Sad. Playing against so many great players, which were sometimes three years older than me, was a truly valuable experience.
"I have played for the vast majority of my career in older age categories and this shows me every day the weak spots in my own play.
"Therefore, I know I have to practice a lot in order to eliminate those weaknesses."
Naturally Balintova also played with the U18 team last summer in Oradea when the Slovak Republic only just survived relegation having endured a truly nightmare start which saw them lose their first three games before they turned things around to win five of their last six encounters.
"We were really happy that we survived in Division A last year," Balintova recalls.
"We began the tournament badly but then we showed that we like to play basketball and that we know how to play it.
"Our biggest problem in the first games was the low effectiveness of shooting. This changed during the course of the tournament and we started to win games.
"As a team, we got along with each other really well and we had good coaches too.
"For me personally, the U18 Championship in Oradea was an invaluable experience."
With Division A basketball already secured for next summer courtesy of the vital win against the neighbouring Czech Republic, the focus now turns to making a splash in the second round - something Balintova will be be central to, should it happen.