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Returns of Doncic, Bost, Koponen, Shengelia would make a big difference in remaining Qualifiers
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - The return of a missing player or two could make all the difference for some teams in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers, which resume on February 23.
Take a Bulgaria side that began its campaign in November with a narrow home defeat to Finland and a come-from-behind triumph at Iceland.
Lubomir Minchev's men were missing one of their best players from the Pre-Qualifiers, a naturalized point guard from America, Dee Bost.
With Bost, Bulgaria might have won both November Qualifiers.
There are other players national team coaches all over Europe will be wanting for the February window. Despite Slovenia playing in Burgos, Spain, in their second Qualifier in November, Real Madrid's Luka Doncic didn't join the national team he had just helped fire to a first-ever FIBA EuroBasket title last summer in Istanbul.
The championship was the biggest moment in the country's hoops history. Anthony Randolph was also absent, though he had gone down with a foot injury a couple of weeks before and wasn't available. Slovenia, who had won against Belarus, battled against Spain but fell, 92-84.
Will Doncic and Randolph suit up again for Slovenia at Montenegro and Belarus next month, and/or when they host Spain on June 28 and the Montenegrins on July 1 in the Qualifiers? Coach Rado Trifunovic clearly hopes so.
Iz Španije se nam je javil selektor #mojtim Rado Trifunović. ki si je včeraj ogledal srečanje @EuroLeague med @RMBaloncesto in @AnadoluEfesSK. V Madridu ostaja do nedelje. @luka7doncic @TheARandolph @zoran_dragic pic.twitter.com/BTAFvMIR0R— Košarkarska zveza SI (@kzs_si) January 26, 2018
Finland were missing both Barcelona's Petteri Koponen and Unicaja Malaga's Sasu Salin for their two Qualifiers. Koponen would have been a huge help at home against the Czech Republic on November 27, when the Czechs won, 64-56. He did not have a EuroLeague game with CSKA Moscow until four days later yet wasn't freed up to play for the Finns.
Likewise, Salin missed the Czech clash despite a four-day gap before his next Unicaja game at Panathinaikos. Had the EuroLeague not scheduled games during the international windows and abided in the new calendar as they had once said they would, these players would have been with their national teams.
Georgia played well in their two games at Germany and Serbia but lost both. They might have gotten over the hump if Tornike Shengelia of Baskonia had been given the green light to play.
Georgia would benefit from Shengelia's explosive drives to the hoop
If all of these players return to the national team for February, it should make a significant difference. Bost certainly would.
When Bulgaria swept Belarus and Portugal in the Pre-Qualifiers, he averaged 14.8 points and 4.8 assists. Some might have called him the team's best player.
Bulgaria, still without Bost, had a 77-74 come-from-behind win in their next Qualifier at Iceland.
Bost would help on both ends of the floor. In Bulgaria's 84-70 triumph over Belarus on August 16 in the Pre-Qualifiers, he had 6 steals to go with his 8 points and 6 assists.
The North Carolina native saw his stock rise while playing for Basketball Champions League side AS Monaco Basket last season. He signed for Zalgiris Kaunas and joined them after the Pre-Qualifiers, yet went down with plantar fasciitis.
He started to play again in early November but on the 23rd, Bost had to play a EuroLeague game for Zalgiris and therefore missed the home World Cup Qualifier against Finland the following day. Bulgaria lost to the Susijengi, 82-80.
He says he wants to be there in February when Bulgaria host the Czech Republic on February 23 and then play at Finland 48 hours later in the Helsinki Ice Stadium.
"I really enjoyed playing for Bulgaria," he told me this week. "A lot of people think you get paid for it but I don't. I get the nationality, and I just go out there and play every game like it's my last, like I do wherever I'm at."
There will no longer be a EuroLeague impediment for Bost. He parted amicably from Zalgiris in early December and signed for SIG Strasbourg, who play in the Basketball Champions League, a competition that observes the international windows.
Bost's return should provide a boost. He led SIG to an 88-87 win at AEK in Greece on Tuesday in the Basketball Champions League, scoring 23 points, handing out 7 assists, collecting 4 rebounds and coming up with 4 steals. The performance earned him the most valuable player of the week honor.
He says the only thing that could stop him would be the plantar fasciitis.
"Earlier this season, that was the first time for me getting hurt, being out a month," he said. "I'm coping with it now, knock on wood.
"I'll play for them. Hopefully everything will be okay with me being healthy. If everything is okay, I'll be there to play in February.
"They got a big win and we've got a great chance to go to the next stage of the competition."
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