29 July, 2017
06 August
13 Maros Zeliznak (SVK)
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Hosting championship huge chance for Slovak Republic, Zeliznak says

PRAGUE (FIBA U18 European Championship 2017) - Slovak Republic have never played at the FIBA U18 European Championship, so hosting this summer's tournament will be a huge chance for basketball in the country, says one of the team's leading players, Maros Zeliznak.

Zeliznak collected 14 points and 4 rebounds as Slovak Republic beat Hungary 63-62 in the Third-Place Game at the FIBA U18 European Championship Division B last summer to book their ticket to Division A.

"It was huge for our country and for me - maybe the biggest moment in basketball for me," said Zeliznak, who was one of six Slovaks on the team who can return this summer for another season at U18 level.

The drama in the game could not have been higher as Slovak Republic's Samir Hebibi banked a three-pointer off the glass in the final second to win the game. "It was so great. I didn't know if it was possible but it was great," the 6ft 10in (2.08m) Zeliznak said.

It seems fitting that the Slovak generation of 1999-born players with Zeliznak were promoted with major drama in the Third-Place Game. A year earlier, Zeliznak was part of the Slovak team that lost to Sweden 57-56 in the Third-Place Game of the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015 Division B. A victory would have sent Slovak Republic to Division A at U16 level for the first time in the country's history.

"(Winning the U18 Third-Place Game) was so much better. I wanted to forget that moment from Sofia when we lost to Sweden. We wanted to play better," the Vranov nad Toplou-native said.

Zeliznak and the others now want to take the momentum from last summer into the tournament at home. And that group of players will have gone through a lot together, which should help the team in Division A.Slovak Republic celebrate after Samir Hebibi (number 7) hit his decisive three-pointer to get the country to Division A.

"The past will be important. We have a lot of experience. So now we have to show the fight and what we have," said Zeliznak, who plays with the Czech club Get Better Academy in Prague.

The Slovaks will face a major test this summer as they were drawn into Group D with defending champions France, Latvia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. But Zeliznak says the hosts will be ready.

"We can beat everybody when we play like a team, and we will try to do that," he said. "We want to fight and show what we have and show what we can do."

Zeliznak expects a great crowd for the tournament, which will be played from July 29 to August 6 in Bratislava and Piestany.

"It will be really nice. We will have family and friends there and a lot of fans for us. It will be a great feeling," Zeliznak said.

"It will be a huge opportunity for us and basketball in Slovak Republic."