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The Cinderella story of Czech Republic epitomizes team-first philosophy
PRAGUE (Czech Republic) - The Czech Republic played some of the best "team basketball" during their surprising run to the Quarter-Finals at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 and it was in large part due to one individual.
"The main reason is Tomas Satoransky," said Jaromir Bohacik, the Czechs' second-leading scorer in China at 15.3 points per game. "He's our leader. It's great when the best player on the team is also the most team-oriented player on the team and has the energy that he plays with."
Czech coach Neno Ginzburg had a lot to say about Satoransky, too.
"Tomas, first of all, before being a great player, he's a great competitor," Ginzburg said. "He wants to win so for him, it doesn't matter if he scores 6 points or 16 points. The main issue is to win the game and he knows to win the game, you have to do it together.
"During the games, he shares the ball and in practices, he demands of all players to be 100 percent committed to the win. In a video session, every word I've said, he remembers. Sometimes in games, he reminds us of something. This is the difference between good players and great players."
Patrik Auda (dunking) benefited greatly from the constant movement and passing in the Czech offense
As both Bohacik and Ginzburg spoke to FIBA.basketball, the players' determination to work together, as a team, was a theme.
"It starts with Tomas," Bohacik said. "He's the point guard and wants to make everyone play better. We were like, 'Okay, we can share the ball, we can move the ball and keep that energy' and it worked out.
"It's like a disease. You get it from him eventually. And then you have to play unselfishly as well."
"IN A VIDEO SESSION, EVERY WORD I'VE SAID, HE (SATORANSKY) REMEMBERS. SOMETIMES IN GAMES, HE REMINDS US OF SOMETHING. THIS IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD PLAYERS AND GREAT PLAYERS."
Satoransky, who has just started the new NBA season with the Chicago Bulls, is the Czechs' biggest star. He was their leading scorer at 15.5 points per game in China yet also averaged a whopping 8.5 assists per game - the second highest in the World Cup. He started at point guard and logged a a team-high 33.2 minutes per game.
In addition to Bohacik, centers Ondrej Balvin (2.17m, 7ft 1in) and Patrik Auda (2.06m, 6ft 9in) were sensational, and they needed to be with center Jan Vesely (2.13m, 7ft) kept out because of injury. It had seemed that Vesely's absence would be a crushing blow.
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"It was like a real storm in the Czech Republic because no one had expected that," Bohacik said. "Jan Vesely is one of the biggest stars in Europe. We really needed him. Our big guys in China really stepped up and covered the hole, especially Patrik Auda and Ondrej Balvin."
"Balvin is a good player when he plays for me and also at Gran Canaria," Ginzburg said. "When Jan wasn't there, there were more minutes for both and space to make mistakes (without the threat of quickly being removed from the game).
"They're different players. Patrik is more offensive and goes out to collect his points for the team. Balvin knew that he was the only big man that we had, he took the responsibility, knew how to deal with it and is a good player. Balvin and Jan can play together, too. We can have a hell of a team (when that happens)."
The Czechs celebrated after their 91-76 triumph over Turkey
The Czechs were a shining example of something else. They benefited enormously from the intense competition in the European Qualifiers.
"They gained a lot of experience in the European Qualifiers," Ginzburg said. "I'm talking about Vojtech Hruban. He's an experienced player, but he and Bohacik and Balvin became, when 'Sato' and Jan weren't there, the main players of the team. They had a lot of responsibility, gained a lot of confidence.
"You saw it game by game. I remember the first game against Iceland, we were a little bit shaky and from game to game, they gained a little more confidence. And then when you add in Satoransky, it makes us a much better team."
At the time of the draw, which Kobe Bryant participated in as a FIBA Basketball World Cup Global Ambassador, Ginzburg joked, "I thought Kobe had better days" because the Czechs ended up in a group with two-time defending champions USA, Turkey and Japan.
"THEY GAINED A LOT OF EXPERIENCE IN THE EUROPEAN QUALIFIERS ...VOJTECH HRUBAN'S AN EXPERIENCED PLAYER, BUT HE AND BOHACIK AND BALVIN BECAME, WHEN 'SATO' AND JAN WEREN'T THERE, THE MAIN PLAYERS. THEY HAD A LOT OF RESPONSIBILITY, GAINED A LOT OF CONFIDENCE."
"We didn't know what to expect from the game against the USA but we played good against them and got more comfortable," Ginzburg said. "It was a good game, even though we lost by 19, but you can lose by 40 against a team like that. We gained more confidence. So in the end, the USA game helped us."
They followed that up with big wins over Japan, Turkey and Brazil and despite a loss to Greece, advanced to the Quarter-Finals.
Bohacik says it's only just begun to sink in, how special the summer was.
"We talked during the qualification that it would be an amazing achievement for Czech basketball just to get to China," he said. "But then it wasn't over. It was like a fairy tale for Czech basketball."
The next time the Czech players gather, they'll get ready for one of the four FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQTs). Only the four winners of the six-team OQTs will clinch one of the four remaining places at the Tokyo Games.