12 - 20
August 2016
13 Luka Samanic (CRO), 5 Oton Jankovic (CRO), 14 Jakov Kukic (CRO), 4 Jure Planinic (CRO), 9 Jan Palokaj (CRO)
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Palokaj ready to leave it all on the floor for Croatia

RADOM (FIBA U16 European Championship 2016) - Jan Palokaj knows he is not a prolific scorer for his team - that's not his role - but Croatia's captain is prepared to do all the little things to help his side win.

Palokaj is full of passion on the court, but also has a lot of maturity despite being a year younger and gives his team a calming influence as he looks to do whatever it takes to lead his team.

"I know that I am not a player who is going to score 20 points in a game," he said.

"But I am always here for my team-mates and will do anything I can to help them. I will give absolutely everything on the floor for my country and my team."

Croatia reached the Semi-Finals for the first time since 2011 - a year in which they won the competition - after they pulled away from France in a 69-52 victory on Thursday.

Palokaj contributed five points, six rebounds and two assists in the win including a three-pointer to give Croatia a commanding 20-point advantage at the end of the third.

The 1.91m guard is delighted his team have been able to advance to the Last Four and believes they are making their country proud.

"Our country has waited a long time for an U16 team like us," he said.

"It is a magnificent feeling to reach the Semi-Finals, especially to make it with this team. We are fighting for every possession and we try to be everywhere on the court."

This generation has been aided by one of the best European prospects in Luka Samanic. The towering forward is averaging 16 points, 9.4 rebounds as well as 3.8 blocks per game and acts as a springboard for his team.

Samanic narrowly missed out on a triple-double in the Round of 16 after putting up impressive numbers of 17 points, 15 boards and nine blocks.

"Luka is one of the top players in his generation," Palokaj said of his team-mate.

"He is really big for me, and for everyone. It is important he gets into a rhythm because then it helps the rest of the team follow.

"He is the leader of our team, we look for him on the court and try to get him open.

"We have put a lot of hard work in as a team and it is starting to pay off, but we are not done yet."

Croatia have only lost once en route to the Semi-Finals as they went down by six points against Turkey on the second day, although they still managed to top their group.

However, they almost didn’t even make the Last Eight after an almighty scare. Croatia needed two extra periods to finally overcome the challenge of Sweden, and Palokaj admits that his side took their opponents too lightly.

"We just didn’t respect Sweden," he said.

"They really surprised us and we did not expect it to be so close and have to play in two overtimes.

"We said after the game that we have to respect everyone, but at the same time, show no mercy."

Croatia certainly did that in their win over France in a convincing display, but face their toughest test yet as they go head-to-head with Lithuania for a place in Saturday’s Final.

Just two games stand in the way of lifting the title and the message now for Croatia is just to do more of the same that has put them in medal contention.

Palokaj has full belief in his side and it now comes down to executing in the biggest games they will have played for the national team.

"We just need to play smart basketball," he said.

"It will be a very tough game against Lithuania and we will need to slow them down also as they have hurt a lot of teams with their fast play.

"We have the talent, we know we are a good team and just need to do what we do well.

"If we can play to our best then we can win the Championship."