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Van der Mars, Dutch target big game against Romania
GRONINGEN (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - The Netherlands need to be firing on all cylinders when they run onto the court to host Romania on June 28 or the aim of having the country at a World Cup for the first time since 1986 will be dashed.
"It's basically do-or-die," Dutch center Thomas van der Mars said to FIBA.basketball. "At this point we're 1-3 so we really, really need that second win. That's our priority: get one win and then hopefully another. We have to beat Romania by 7."
Van der Mars poured in 20 points in February at Croatia
A team that made it through the Pre-Qualifiers, the Dutch reconfirmed they are a very dangerous team to take on when beating Croatia in their first World Cup Qualifier on November 24, 68-61. Toon van Helfteren's squad wasn't ready for the next game at Romania, though. After falling behind by as many as 18 points, the Dutch ended up losing, 75-68.
"Our biggest struggle is following up a good performance with another good performance and not getting complacent," Van der Mars said. "That's where we need to improve as a team for sure. The funny thing is, when we have a bad performance, the next game we play better."
"JUST TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO PLAY BIG TEAMS ON DUTCH SOIL AND GETTING AN OPPORTUNITY TO ADVERTISE THE SPORT ITSELF IS PRETTY COOL.”
Van der Mars had the hot hand in the second game against Croatia, making all 9 of his shots from the floor and scoring 20 points. He underlined his importance to the cause with that performance.
"I wasn't really thinking about that a lot," he said, "even though after the game my dad texted me and said, 'Wow, this might be big for you.' But I wasn't really thinking about it at the time.
"All you're trying to do is come together and win for the national team. It's kind of unique in the way that everybody there is fully committed to winning and they set their egos to the side. It's a pretty special experience in that way."
Van der Mars was galvanized by the effort because he returned to club side Kalev Cramo in Estonia and excelled. His season finished in the best way possible. In a 3-0 domestic play-off semi-final sweep of Parnu, the 27-year-old averaged 17.6 points per game. Then in a 4-0 sweep of Tartu Ulikoo in the finals, Van der Mars was a combined 17 of 23 from the floor and averaged 9.0 points.
"THEY (ROMANIA) CAME OUT, PUNCHED US IN THE FACE AND NEVER LET GO OF WHAT WAS WORKING FOR THEM."
His attention is now fully on the national team and having a better performance against Romania, a team Van der Mars and his teammates believe they should have beaten the first time.
He is among the 16 players named in the squad by Van Helfteren for the third window and his role may have increased in importance following the recent decision by veteran center Henk Norel to retire from international basketball.
Van Helfteren will be looking for a much improved effort against Romania and especially since it is on home soil. Van der Mars says Romania deserve credit for winning the first meeting.
"I don't want to take anything away from Romania," he said. "They came out, punched us in the face and never let go of what was working for them."
After the Romanians will come Italy.
Van der Mars and the Netherlands will face Italy again on July 2
"They play very hard, very physical, consistent and a good brand of basketball," he said of the Azzurri. "They share the ball. They have plenty of talent."
So what does Van der Mars make of the World Cup Qualifiers and playing for his national team?
"It's special because you get to represent something that is part of you, that's been part of you growing up and to see the country pull together," he said.
"Just to have the opportunity to play big teams on Dutch soil and getting an opportunity to advertise the sport itself is pretty cool. We sold out a pretty big arena for the home game against Croatia and expect the home game against Italy in the next window to be fun."
"I'M ALWAYS SURPRISED AFTER GAMES WHEN KIDS COME UP AND WANT TO TAKE A PHOTOGRAPH WITH YOU AND HAVE A LOT OF QUESTIONS. IT'S REALLY NICE TO INSPIRE A NEW GENERATION."
He enjoyed having the international breaks in November and February.
"I liked it because you get a change of scenery, you get to see each other on the national team more often and not just that one time during the summer," he said. "You get to travel to places that are new. I liked how it broke up the season for me. Also this summer, I think it will be nice to give my body a break."
A dream scenario for Van der Mars would be to get two wins in front of the home fans.
"When I grew up, I never had the idea that I would make the senior national team," he said.
"It's just a big experience to be able to play in front of your family and everyone else's family. You see the same faces but there are also new faces that come out and check it out.
"I'm always surprised after games when kids come up and want to take a photograph with you and have a lot of questions. It's really nice to inspire a new generation."