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The Expert Post-Tournament Review: Who saw that coming?

7 Klemen Prepelic (SLO)
7 Klemen Prepelic (SLO) - Slovenia v Serbia, 2017 FIBA EuroBasket Final Round, Istanbul - Sinan Erdem Arena(TUR), Final, 17 September 2017

MUNICH (FIBA EuroBasket 2017) - So that's it. FIBA EuroBasket 2017 is done and dusted, with a new team having reached the top of the podium. Slovenia will be champions until 2021. Who saw that coming? 

Prior to the tournament, then at the midway point, our four writers - David Hein, Igor Curkovic, Tristan Lavalette and Simas Baranauskas - and livebasketball.tv commentator Jeff Taylor gave us their predictions and observations. So now it is all over, what do they have to say for themselves?

So that is one prediction I did get right:

DH: Some people had Italy not even getting out of the Group Phase, but I picked them as my Dark Horse - not to win the tournament but definitely to go further than most expected. And they did just that, knocking off Finland in the Round of 16 and then losing to Serbia in the Quarter-Finals.

IC: I got so many things wrong, but I can now point to this story over here, written exactly a year ago. And writing about being right back then gets me a right of bragging now, right? Anyway, I chose Klemen Prepelic as a breakthrough player last year. "Showed that Slovenia can count on him in the future" turned out to be a 21-point performance in the Final.

TL: Most of my predictions fell flat as, like most, I expected Spain to repeat as champions. I fared better in predicting Greece's struggles although their Quarter-Final finish was probably better than expected after a horrible start and without Giannis Antetokounmpo.

SB: Looking back, a lot of my predictions were banking on the fact that Pau Gasol and Spain would cruise to a repeat FIBA EuroBasket title. Well… That did not happen. One did not exactly need to be an oracle, to say Kristaps Porzingis and Latvia were going to be an exciting team to watch. A cautious prediction of Slovenia possibly winning their first ever medal is also not one to write home about after they swept the field en route to the title. I did not rate the chances of Greece and Italy going far in the tournament very highly. Both of them had my predictions wobbling with excellent displays in the Round of 16 before getting sucked in by the quicksand in the Quarter-Finals.

JT: Ouch! This question hurts. Okay, it was easy to pick Spain reaching the podium, though I figured they'd win it all again and that, I'm afraid, they did not. I knew Group A in Helsinki would be terrific with all of the Susijengi fans and traveling Iceland supporters creating a great atmosphere. So I got that right Their matchup was a fun one to watch, too, with the Finns scraping a narrow win.

...and that was one I definitely did not see coming:

DH: Sure, I never really mentioned Slovenia much but you could figure that a guard-dominant team could go far. Still, Russia really came out of nowhere for me. I didn't see this coming. Which is kind of bad on me because I am a huge fan of Andrey Vorontsevich. Great to see Russia really relevant again.

IC: Israel going out in the Group Phase. This was a team that had beaten Slovenia, Finland, Russia and Turkey in the preparation period, but they were nowhere near that form when it mattered most. Same goes for Georgia, except the beaten teams in preseason were Serbia, Greece, Lithuania, Latvia...

TL: Russia coming close to a bronze medal was a major surprise. I didn't expect Aleksei Shved to be able to pull off his solo heroics for that long but somehow he did and Russia were able to ride his purple patch into a fourth-placed finish. I kept expecting them to get knocked over by more rounded teams but the players around Shved bought into their roles and it was a well drilled team led superbly by coach Sergey Bazarevich.

SB: Russia getting all the way to the Semi-Finals and falling just one win short of the podium was definitely something that caught me off guard. I could not imagine Aleksei Shved having as dominant of a tournament as he did, while remaining efficient for the most part. Head coach Sergey Bazarevich deserves praise for constructing a functioning unit from the players in his selection, even with them not being able to snatch up a medal as a reward for their summer-long work.

JT: I certainly did not see Russia getting to the last four, and they did with one gritty performance after another. I fell in love with this team, this coach and these reporters. All of them were good fun. But what I really did not see coming was Slovenia. This was a team possessed, a team on a mission, a team of destiny. The most beautiful part of this Slovenia was that it was not just made up of one or two individuals, but a bunch of hard-working and relentless players that were supremely confident. When I say confident, I'm thinking of Klemen Prepelic. When I say smart, determined and strong, I'm thinking of Gasper Vidmar. This team took out 10 years of frustration on the competition and did so with amazing flair. Goran, Luka - you made this fun.

In 10 words or less, this play...

DH: wow, eye-popping, breathtaking, statement-making, Doncic-esque, unfair, awe-inspiring, mind-blowing, NBA-worthy, 18-years-in-the-making



SB:… qualified Doncic for the giant slalom event in Pyeongchang 2018.

JT: Oh my goodness. DONCIC!!!!!

My personal highlight of the tournament:

DH: Really would have to say seeing Luka Doncic break out on the international landscape. He had already made a mark with Real Madrid, but international basketball is another beast. But Doncic never seemed overwhelmed and almost always in control. Second pick: Watching Sergey Bazarevich's press conferences.

IC: After the Semi-Finals, Slovenian coach Igor Kokoskov spoke about how much Slovenia making the Final meant to the nation, saying "kids will now wear Doncic and Dragic jerseys." Didn't want to leave it at that, so I asked him what about the other players, guys from the supporting roles who were amazing all tournament long, guys like Nikolic, Prepelic, Vidmar and others. "Okay, [kids] are gonna wear Randolph, Rebec, Dragic, Nikolic, Prepelic, Muric, Blazic, Vidmar, Zagorac, Dimec, Cancar and Doncic jerseys." It was such a simple answer, but it said all about his character and team-first mentality they had over there. I got the goosebumps when Kokoskov said it...and I'm not even Slovenian!

TL: As testament to the above, Luka Doncic was breathtaking and showed why he is well worth the hype. Actually, he's even better than advertised. His maturity and ability to control the game at such a young age is astonishing. Yet, off the court, he's still relatively shy dealing with the media and there are glimpses where you remember he's just 18. It's been a privilege to see him up close at this early juncture of his career.

I also will never forget the amazing Icelandic fans, who made Iceland games such a joy to attend even though the team struggled. Their joy and enthusiasm in cheering for Iceland brought a smile to everyone inside Helsinki Arena - even opposition teams and supporters - and makes you remember what sport is really about. I could feel the goosebumps when they did the 'Viking Clap' in unison with the packed local crowd during the Finland and Iceland game. It was an unforgettable moment.

SB: It is difficult to define a specific moment, but having the chance to watch Kristaps Porzingis from up close in Istanbul was something special. From being super easy to work with in the photo and video shoots and patiently answering a long list of questions from the media before the tournament to bringing his one-of-a-kind unicorn skillset on the court with jaw-dropping putback slams and long-range bombs from well beyond the arc.

JT: I could get soppy and say it was when Gabe Olaseni opened up and talked about how much the Great Britain coach Joe Prunty had meant to him and his career (In fact, I already did). I could say something about Kristaps Porzingis and his freakish talent, or about jumping out of the chair in my hotel room and cheering for Lauri Markkanen when he took over late in the game to lead Finland over France. Honestly, to be in the Sinan Erdem Arena when Slovenia edged Latvia in an up-and-down classic, and also when Slovenia beat a valiant Serbia in a raucous atmosphere - those two games were jaw-dropping. 


For me, the biggest disappointment was:

DH: Suppose I will go with Georgia. Sure, you could argue France or Croatia or maybe Lithuania. But just seeing Georgia not get through the Group Phase despite some really high level players is a disappointment.

IC: I've stopped counting how many times Croatia failed to do something when the rest of Europe saw them as one of the favorites or at least a dark horse...

TL: Sure they were missing a host of big names, but France not making the Quarter-Finals for the first time in 20 years was a severe underachievement. They still had loads of talent but frustratingly just could not mesh. Too often, France seemed bored by it all and it showed in their uninspiring play.

SB: France. I had them pegged in the medal picture before the tournament even with Les Bleus playing without some of their biggest stars. However, their second-half collapse against Germany in the Round of 16 and the general lack of intensity in that game will not be among the proudest moments in the team's recent history. I think they undersold their talent by quite a bit with such an early exit.

JT: I hated to see Turkey lose in the Round of 16 because this was a team worth rooting for. The coach, Ufuk Sarica, turned these players into a combative unit that fought until its last collective breath. Furkan Korkmaz, Cedi Osman and Kenan Sipahi were electric and so were the less heralded group of players that made their fans proud. In all of my years covering Turkey, this one was my favorite. Congratulations to Sarica for starting something beautiful. 

2021 is a long time away, but here is my early prediction:

DH: Hard not to think Luka Doncic won’t be dominating the game by then. Slovenia might not have either Dragic brother. Latvia will still have much of the core around Kristaps Porzingis and even the next wave. Germany will be up there as their next group of talent enters the team. Turkey will be better too. And of course there is always Spain, Serbia, Lithuania, France and Greece. If I have to give a prediction: France, Turkey, Serbia (Serbia will have won a title before 2021).

IC: Can't go against a 22-year-old Luka Doncic. Kristaps Porzingis and Latvia are sure to be in the medal mix, and the development of the Hernangomez brothers will be fun to watch over the years. Early MVP candidate - a 29-year-old NBA superstar Bogdan Bogdanovic. Don't think I ever saw a born leader like that man.


TL: I envision Doncic to be an NBA superstar by then and looking to lead Slovenia to a repeat as champions, while stamping himself as the king of European basketball. However, Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo - who each may have landed an NBA MVP by then - and undoubtedly a riser - Nikola Jokic? - will be vying with Donic for the mantle of best European player on the planet in what shapes as an intriguing sub plot. Meanwhile, we could see teams like long-time powerhouses Spain and France transitioning during what could be a tilting of power in European basketball.

SB: After finishing runners-up at FIBA EuroBasket 2017, Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic promised to someday win gold. I think there's a very good chance of that happening already in the next edition of the tournament. Having come to Istanbul with an injury-depleted roster, they showcased the depth of their talent pool by making the Final even without more than a handful key players. Bogdan Bogdanovic is a born leader, but just imagine that team with Nikola Jokic!

JT: I'm just going to throw this out there: TURKEY! Four years is a long time but this team already has three budding stars in Osman, Korkmaz and Sipahi. As long as Sarica stays at the helm and the other young guns in the program that have done so well in the youth ranks continue to develop, this can be an excellent team that can go after a title. I just hope that if the youngsters do not get the playing time they need at big clubs, they find teams and situations that will allow them to prosper.