Czech Republic's Satoransky: ''The boys have grown up, which makes us one of the best teams we've ever had''
PRAGUE (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - It wasn't much fun at the time for Tomas Satoransky or coach Ronen Ginzburg, but the Czech Republic did gain something vital last summer when they crashed out of the FIBA EuroBasket in Cluj with just a single win over hosts Romania to show for it.
After an 83-68 triumph on that opening night, the Czechs lost four consecutive games and fell well short of their performance in 2015, when they made it to the Quarter-Finals and ultimately came in seventh.
"After we finished EuroBasket 2017, the only thing I said was that it was good that young players - (Jaromir) Bohacik, (Martin) Peterka - got to play and players like (Vojtech) Hruban got more responsibility," Czech coach Ronen Ginzburg said to FIBA.basketball. "And now, we get the fruits from that. Now, it (the European Qualifiers) is not new for them."
Indeed it was not because, in tough situations during the Qualifiers when Satoransky and Jan Vesely were not present, the Czechs played with calm and confidence. They had been in those difficult moments before and while experiencing defeats, still got a taste of the big time.
"SELF-CONFIDENCE HAS IMPROVED ENORMOUSLY. I NOTICED THAT ALREADY IN TRAINING, IT WASN'T JUST ABOUT ME AND HONZA VESELY, BUT IT WAS A TEAM CONCEPT."
The Czechs won five of their six First Round games and after the arrival of Satoransky and Vesely for the start of the Second Round this month, won two more, results that have ensured their historic place in next year's 32-team World Cup in China.
"Self-confidence has improved enormously," Satoransky said of the team. "I noticed that already in training, it wasn't just about me and Honza Vesely, but it was a team concept. The boys have grown up, which makes us one of the best teams we've ever had."
The Czechs were supposed to be one of the teams in the mix for a World Cup berth but few could have predicted their qualification could come with four games still to play. The Czechs may be the single biggest surprise in the Qualifiers, including those being played in Africa, the Americas and Asia.
A gritty 80-78 home win over Russia in their first game of the September window is already the stuff of legend. Satoransky's go-ahead runner falls through the hoop with six seconds left, followed by Aleksei Shved's missed 3-pointer at the death, will be talked about for a long, long time.
So will the celebrations on the court for after Sunday's 85-80 triumph at Bosnia and Herzegovina, a place where good teams often end up losing.
Czechoslovakia made it to the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Colombia, in 1982, and finished 10th. Since the Velvet Revolution of 1989, neither the Czechs, nor the Slovaks, have made to the men's World Cup since, until now.
"It's a big achievement for us," Satoransky said. "We could not think about the World Cup for a long time. You can see happiness and joy now, because we are in the World Cup after 37 years. I still can't believe it, but it's one of my biggest achievements. We will have opportunity to confront the best players and teams! It’s something amazing."
Satoransky, Czech basketball's biggest star now that he plays in the NBA with the Washington Wizards, says what is very encouraging about the accomplishment and the improving standard of the national side is that the team is about much more than just he and Vesely.
"These two games showed our team is not only about two players, but we can play like a team," he said. "Everybody helped us to advance to the World Cup. When we were down against Russia, Jaromir Bohacik helped us. Yesterday, it was Vojta Hruban. And Blake Schilb? He's our certainty off the bench."
Bohacik has been a very important player for the Czechs in the European Qualifiers
Satoransky also remembered last year when the Czechs left Romania down in the dumps. They had raised the bar two years earlier and not come close to equalling that achievement.
"I feel it makes sense to play in the national team," he said. "We made a big step forward during the last year. It’s a paradox if you compare, how we ended EuroBasket 2017 and where we are now. It shows that you never know what will happen next year in basketball."
All in all, it's been a win-win situation in the European Qualifiers. This Czech side with its excellent team play, with and without Satoransky and Vesely, has taken a major step forward.
"It was really valuable," he said of the last two games. "We won two tough games in the moment, when all players were available. Our team has big potential, guys grew up in qualification games. It gives us more opportunities. We didn’t have much time and I believe we can improve our game."
Ginzburg answered for everyone when he was asked about the importance of the World Cup qualification.
"I'm really happy and satisfied," he said, "it's a great moment for basketball in the Czech Republic."