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Poland's Ponitka: ''We just keep believing... we have a team that's getting more and more experience''
WARSAW - Poland are oh so close to punching their ticket to the FIBA Basketball World Cup, a competition they last played in 52 years ago when it was staged in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Since beginning the Second Round of the European Qualifiers with a heavy defeat at Italy, coach Mike Taylor's team has won three straight, including at home over Croatia (79-74) on September 14 to conclude the fourth window, and went a perfect 2-0 in in the fifth window in November-December, by prevailing at the Netherlands (105-78) and at home over Italy (94-78).
In next month's sixth and final window of the Qualifiers, Poland play at Croatia (February 22) and then hosts the Netherlands three days later. The team will secure a spot in the World Cup with two wins but could qualify with one or no wins in the final window, depending on other results.
Shooting guard Mateusz Ponitka, who has featured in all 10 of Poland's European Qualifiers, spoke to FIBA.basketball.
What's been working well for Poland, Mateusz?
I believe we have come up with a very good roster, especially for the last window (in November-December). We just keep believing. We have a team that is getting more and more experience that has players at the European level and that shows.
The victory at the Netherlands against a very good Dutch team was convincing. The team shot the ball exceptionally well in that game.
For us, this is a big chance. We have to win those types of games. Okay, we lost to Hungary (64-57 in February) and that was the biggest mistake (in the European Qualifiers) for us. At some point, though, everybody began to believe that when we share the ball and play together, it's much easier to play and score those shots. I really believe in my teammates. We've shown many times that we're capable of beating the good teams. The game against the Netherlands was just a perfect game for us.
Maciej Lampe was terrific for Poland on his return to the national team. Do you see him being a part of things moving forward?
For us to get a boost like this with the experience, let’s be honest with a very talented player who used to be in the NBA and Euroleague, I’m really happy that he came back to us and that first of all, he’s healthy. He can help us in the upcoming games.
Lampe had 17 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks in the win over the Dutch
Poland look like a deeper team than the ones that competed at the last three FIBA EuroBaskets. Aaron Cel, for example, was 6 of 7 from behind the arc and had 20 points at the Netherlands.
Definitely when you have more and more players that are able to give something in the important games, it’s much easier to play for everybody. Having guys like Michal Sokolowski, like Karol Gruszecki, other guys that are fighting under the basket - it opens the game for us (to score from outside). I’m really happy we got these last two wins. Now it’s a matter of maintaining our focus and finishing the job.
So looking forward, you are at Croatia and then at home to the Netherlands. Is there any danger of Poland taking its foot off the pedal and losing its concentration.
Everyone knows what we are playing for. This is historical for our country. The last time Poland was in a World Cup was 52 years ago. Basically, I don’t believe anybody will not come focused or not ready to die on the floor to win one of these two games.
What of the possibility of being at the 32-team World Cup in China this summer? Can you even think about it right now?
Of course, this a dream of every player to be able to play against these great teams that in the past we've watched on TV. It’s something special for us. I believe we have to take our chances and try to win both of our remaining games.
Ponitka had 18 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals in Poland's last win over Italy
What can you say about your coach, Mike Taylor?
He’s a lot of fun and it’s his fifth year with us so we know his style of game. He’s doing a good job (coaching) in Hamburg, too. He’s a very good person and has a good approach with us, giving us a comfort zone to deliver the best and be most productive. It’s good for us as a team that we have this continuity. We can always put in something new before a game but do not have to start from the beginning, so this is a big positive.