Commentary: Croatia in a medal hunt at EuroBasket

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-31 10:41:36|Editor: Yang Yi
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by Gordan Gabrovec

ZAGREB, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- Full of hope that this will be the competition ending on high note for them, Croatian men's basketball team left Zagreb on Wednesday for Romania to compete among 24 best European teams at FIBA EuroBasket co-hosted by Romania, Finland, Israel and Turkey from Aug. 31 until Sept. 17.

Croatia will play in the Group C in Cluj-Napoca, Romania together with the host team, title-holder Spain, Hungary, Czech Republic and Montenegro. The best four teams from each of the four groups will advance to the knockout phase that will be held in Istanbul, Turkey.

It's been 22 years since Croatian men's basketball team took the bronze in Athens, Greece. Since then, many big tournaments have past, many Croatian teams have been considered among the favorites to win the trophies but the "Athens curse" lived on and the Croatians often stumbled at the last hurdle. This time around they hope for a different outcome.

Why would it be different? Why now? Well, there are quite a few reasons. It's been a while since Croatia was considered as one of the biggest favorites. That spot has been occupied by teams like Spain, Serbia, France, Lithuania and Greece. Little has changed in that order at the top, even though there are some notable names that those team will be missing at this edition of FIBA EuroBasket due to injuries or other personal reasons. Croatia will enjoy its place as one of the teams that could provide a challenge for before-mentioned teams.

Then, there is the 2016 summer experience when Croatia went from disappointing EuroBasket 2015 Round of 16 exit to become the winner of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Turin, Italy and carried on to beat Spain and Lithuania in the group stage of Olympic tournament on its way to the quarterfinals. The core of that team, led by 28-year old sharp shooter Bojan Bogdanovic, the new acquisition of Indiana Pacers, and energetic, 23-year old Philadelphia 76ers rookie power forward Dario Saric, stayed together.

Experienced 58-year old Aleksandar Petrovic remained at helm as the national head coach. All of them will have something to prove.

Bogdanovic wants to prove that Indiana Pacers did a good job bringing him from Washington Wizards during the summer. He has to prove his reputation as one of the best scorers on European soil. Saric will want to prove that he should have been the one to receive NBA Rookie of The Year award in June, when he was voted second behind Malcom Brogdon of Milwaukee Bucks.

"I have never worked with a player that can play all five positions, from point guard to center, and to do that without any up and downs," national head coach Petrovic praised his young leader.

Petrovic will have to prove that Croatian basketball legacy still matters and that the "Athens curse" is nothing but a myth. In 1995 he was the up and coming 36-year old coach that led the team filled with legends like Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and Stojan Vrankovic to the bronze medal finish which was considered as a failure at that time.

It's been almost the same team that has played in a 1992 Olympics final against the USA Dream Team, but without legendary captain and Aleksandar's brother Drazen Petrovic who was tragically killed in a car crash in 1993.

Pieces of that team are together again with Kukoc, Radja and Vrankovic all taking the leading roles in Croatian Basketball Federation and helping Petrovic in a process of rebuilding the winning spirit of Croatian basketball national team. Soon enough they will find out how successful they are.