17 February, 2020
28 August, 2021
25 Maxim Marchuk (KAZ)
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Patience leads to progress preaches #SteppenWolves coach Emil Rajkovikj

NUR SULTAN (Kazakhstan) - The atmosphere was tense in the post-game press conference for the game between Kazakhstan and Jordan. Coach Emil Rajkovikj was understandably frustrated. Neither team led by more than 6 points throughout the entire contest, and both spent large chunks of the game ahead of the other, swapping leads 11 times.

It was anyone’s game down to the final seconds. Kazakhstan had the opportunity to tie the game down by three points with less than 5 seconds to go, but a blunder by maxim Marchuk blew away the chance for the home team. The game was a perfect opportunity to claim an important win at home against a World Cup-level opponent, and it just barely slipped away for coach Rajkovkj and his team.

Even then, coach Rajkovikj was not going to throw anyone in particular under the bus for the loss.

“That we lost this game is not Marchuk’s fault,” he said. “Yes, he made a mistake; we needed to shoot from three. But this is not why we lost this game. The problem was before that, because of all our mistakes, and we cannot blame just one player.”

In a moment where anger and frustration could have taken over and result in an outburst, Kazakhstan’s lead tactician took it as a moment to teach and to learn.

“Everyone makes a mistake. I make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. We will be better next time. We will win.”

Drowning in the emotions following the loss might have been easy for Kazakhstan. However, if they take a step back to look at the big picture of their performance during the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifiers, the Steppen Wolves did pretty well.

A narrow win over Palestine in gameday 1 was an upgrade from their overtime loss to the same team back in Asia Cup 2015. This loss against Jordan was a much closer margin than that of their last encounter against each other, also back in 2015, when Jordan won 87-73.

This loss to close out window one hurts for Kazakhstan, but they’re not even halfway through the Qualifiers yet.

“This is just the start of the Qualifiers,” said coach Rajkovikj. “We have two more windows, and I think that we have to analyze this and move forward and then find a way to qualify our team to the FIBA Asia Cup.”

There are plenty of positives to draw from the play of Kazakhstan in the first window. Whether it’s the return of Anton Ponomarev or solid outings from Anton Bykov, there is much to look forward to seeing from Kazakhstan. Even Marchuk himself, despite his late-game mishap, was decent with 6.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game in these first two games.

Most importantly, it was the return of Anthony Clemmons to the squad after making his national team debut with Kazakhstan during the World Cup Qualifiers.

“I’m just excited to be here and represent our country in the best way possible,” Clemmons said. “It felt good to be back here and play in front of you guys. After being here for a few years, I’m looking forward to the next one, because I know I can play a lot better.”

Patience to see these positive points is what Kazakhstan and coach Emil are emphasizing, hoping that the loving fans can see their improvement over the recent years.

“We were now playing a team that Kazakhstan never beat, and we almost won,” Rajkovikj said. “We beat Palestine, and now these players are playing better than before, so there is progress.”

“It needs patience. It needs work, work, work. Losing games, learning, and then making progress.”

Kazakhstan will now patiently wait to visit Sri Lanka and Palestine on November 26 and 29, respectively, for their games in the second window of the Asia Cup Qualifiers.