As Bears seek to make history, Denmark look to benefit
MUNICH (FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers/FIBA Europe Cup) - With Bakken Bears on a history-seeking run in Europe, there is every reason to believe this could have a rub-on effect for the Danish national team.
This Sunday, Denmark begin the long road – also literally in this case – to return to a FIBA EuroBasket Final Round for the first time since 1951, when they travel to Armenia for their opening game of the FIBA EuroBasket 2021 Pre-Qualifiers.
The timing of this international window could arguably not be more opportune, with their camp boosted by the presence of four Bakken Bears players, who are currently one of the hottest teams in the FIBA Europe Cup. With one week still to be played in the FIBA Europe Cup Regular Season, they are already through to the Second Round, with a 4-1 record, sparking discussions of just how far they can go.
One player who has been key to the Bears' campaign with 13.6 points a night, and is now expected to play a major role for the national team, is Darko Jukic.
"We are really happy to be in the FIBA Europe Cup. We are enjoying that and taking it one game at a time," expressed the forward.
"We have a lot of confidence that we can do some things, but at the same time we know that there are a lot of good teams out there, so in some ways we were confident we would go through [to the next round] but we were also surprised that we were through before the last game day," he continued.
"We are a small fish in Europe so we need to have respect for opponents and ourselves every game, but have confidence we can win every time.
"I think we have ambitions to go further than the Second Round. That should be our goal – I don't think a Danish team has ever done it," explained Jukic, whose historical observations are spot on. The furthest a Danish team has made it, is the second round. That happens to be the Bears, who have done it on three occasions, but are yet to win more than one game beyond the group phase.
The question now is, how the confidence from Jukic and fellow Bears players Adama Darboe, David Kristensen and Sylvester Pedersen will rub off on the rest of the Danish camp, who are also on something of a high, albeit a more prolonged one.
The last time the Danes formed for national camp was for the FIBA EuroBasket 2017 Qualifiers, when the team out-performed expectations in the so-called 'group of death.'
"It gave us a lot of confidence that we can take with us now for the next qualifications," reflected Darboe, as thoughts turned back to the heady heights of summer 2016 when the Danes stunned both Austria and Germany, in a group that also included FIBA EuroBasket 2015 participants Netherlands.
"We proved to ourselves and a lot of people who do not know much about Danish basketball and the players here, that we can compete with some other great national teams," offered Jukic, who averaged close to 13 points a night in that campaign.
However, Denmark will not be getting ahead of themselves prior to their game against relative newcomers to the European scene, Armenia.
"I saw them play Sweden last summer. They are a really solid team with some good individual players," commented Jukic, referring back to the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Pre-Qualifiers, when Armenia came within touching distance of making the Qualifiers, thanks to wins over Slovak Republic and Sweden.
Winning in Yerevan can prove an intimidating task for visiting teams
"They are a solid team but I think we can compete," he continued. "We are trying to build. If we want to be taken serious, our only goal can be to beat them."
Of course, there is also the prospect of some new horizons to be explored.
"It's going to be exciting, my first time there. I heard they love sports and it is always fun to go to some new places in the world so we are excited for that."