Czech Republic looking to build on momentum of recent success
SOPRON (FIBA U18 Women’s European Championship 2016) - After tasting glory in 2015 with EuroLeague Women champions USK Praha and a gold medal at the FIBA U16 Women’s European Championship in Matosinhos, Czech Republic are riding a wave of momentum.
The 1998-generation have their own tales to tell, claiming silver in the U16 European Championship in Debrecen in 2014. Center Julia Reisingerova and playmaker Adela Neubauerova were named to the All-Star Five at the end of that tournament, but Reisingerova was a late withdrawal for this tournament - the powerful pivot is one of Europe’s top young talents, and any team would miss her.
Despite her absence, the Czech team retains an impressive group of talented and hard-working players, including dynamic wing Michaela Krejzova, who was understandably downbeat when speaking after their Day 2 loss to Latvia: "They had so many rebounds - I think that was the biggest problem for us, boxing out."
"We had a bad percentage for shooting, and I think yesterday [Saturday’s opener vs Slovak Republic] we played better when we did well offensively - it helps us when we shoot better. We got into a deeper hole when our offence was failing in the fourth quarter," Krejzova lamented. She finished with a team-high nine points, knocking down three triples, and she helped the team to bounce back with a number of decisive buckets in the fourth quarter against Netherlands on Tuesday, on her way to a team-high 19 points.
Coach Ken Scalabroni knows that the offence needs to start firing if his team wants to contend for a medal in Sopron.
The experienced play-caller commented after their opening-day win against Slovak Republic, which was tighter than it needed to be: "We’ve got to read it a bit better, share it a little better, better decisions - we had some problems in the buildup where we were going too quick, but today we had seven or eight possessions where we over-passed it. They took my advice to heart too much!"
"But I think the team understands that, especially against good teams, you’re going to have to function at both ends. And I hope we continue to defend hard and rebound, because if our offence doesn’t catch up, we’re going to have to win games that way."
Ken Scalabroni is making the most of his first stint at the helm of a Czech national squad
The offence may be stuttering a little without its regular focal point, but the tenacity of the Czech team is admirable and points to a reason for their success in recent years. Scalabroni attributes this edge to hours of work in training: "We put them through hell - we tried to make practice harder than the games, and try and get them to enjoy physicality, knowing where the borders are. To their credit, they didn’t complain - they’ve all got bumps and bruises, elbows, fat lips, but they kept coming back for more, and you see the results in the matches. They’re on the floor for every ball and fighting really hard, and that’s what you want to see as a coach. And I hope we continue that way."
Krejzova is effusive in her praise for her coach: "He’s the best - he’s a very good person, a good coach in every way. He trusts us, which helps a lot."
When asked about recent successes, Scalabroni is quick to credit the Czech basketball community: "That’s the result of a lot of hard work of all the clubs and coaches…keeping young kids involved in sport, making them work hard, giving them objectives and reason to play - that’s why we’re supposed to coach. For me, this is my first stint with the national team, and it’s been so much fun. I’ve been so pleased with their attitude and effort, and you want young people to be hungry and they are."
The Czech team face a tricky encounter against Turkey in the Round of 16 on Wednesday, but if they can pass that test, they have the potential to ride that wave of momentum to another podium finish.