Behind their Warrior, Great Britain ready to bring even more noise after pulling off the upset of the tournament
TEL AVIV (Israel) - Hosana, or Hosanna if you prefer the spelling details, is an expression of adoration, praise, or joy. Rarely do you find such a fitting name for a player, as Hosana fits GB's center Hosana Kitenge.
It's impossible to miss a figure like Kitenge, 6ft 6in man-mountain with a body that looks like he is Zion Williamson's big brother. Once he catches your eye in the arena, you just never lose sight of him again, such a vibrant figure, both physically and mentally, keeping you glued to his each move.
You could see how much he is in the game, you could see the suspense in his eyes even when he was waiting for the referee's signal on some random loose-ball out-of-bounds call in the second half of Great Britain's matchup against Serbia in the Shalom Zysman Sports Hall in Tel Aviv.
"Yes, sir! Let's go," he shouted, nodding his head, clapping, and running to the other side of the court, with about a hundred more instructions for each of his teammates on the way over.
"I see my role as someone who motivates the team, someone who leads the team both on and off the court, but most importantly I'm just there to give them the same energy that I have. The same passion that I have, for the whole 40 minutes that we are playing the game. That's all I'm asking. Play with passion, heart, that's it," Kitenge said in a single breath, never losing the smiling expression on his face.
And that is really understandable. Great Britain shocked all of Europe, pulling off the upset of the FIBA U20 European Championship, arguably the biggest one in the history of the competition, and most certainly the biggest story of the day in Israel. Serbia, one of the perennial juggernauts, especially when it comes to youth competitions, suffered a 77-72 defeat to the hands of Great Britain.
"We said it from day one when we walked in to the camp. We said it, 'We're gonna make some noise in this tournament.' Nobody respected us coming into this, apart from ourselves. But we're not here to play games anymore, we're here to play the top eight. Simple as that," the 18-year-old center said.
Hosana had 8 points, with 15 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks to his name, too. The tough assignment of guarding Marko Pecarski did not scare him, not at all, even though he acknowledges the potential of the Serbian big guy.
"It's always great to play against players like Marko Pecarski. You know he's on another level, but to me, it's just another game. I don't care who it is, when it is, where it is, on the biggest stage - hey, I'll play against anyone! You bring any player here, I'll play my heart out. And we'll send them home, like we did today to Serbia, that's what we are here for," a determined Kitenge explained.
He is not wrong. Despite being way heavier and slower than Pecarski and the other Serbian centers, stood his ground throughout the game.
"I'M A BIG BODY. BUT I'M STRONG AS (EXPLETIVE). THAT'S IT."
Coach Karl Brown had the toughest of assignments to bring his leader and the rest of the team to optimal shape in just two and a half weeks of the training camp. Like in a movie script, Team GB went from being a lock for relegation to medal hunt in less than 20 days.
"I took the job about two and a half weeks ago, and I was confident that I could take a group of guys to compete. And that's what we've been doing. I've told the guys to stay positive, to stay focused, it's coming. Sometimes the players don't realize it when you are losing and losing, but I could see that our defense was getting better, our offense was clicking and it was a great team effort," Coach Brown, just moments after his emotional post game locker room speech echoed through the hallways of the arena.
"It's great for GB basketball. What it is about, is to show that GB basketball, if we get our stuff right, we're ready to go with the talent that we have. To beat a great Serbia team... I don't know how many GB teams have done it, I think we're probably the first one, and now we're going to the top eight! This is for GB, GB, GB!"
And even though you always hesitate to ask a coach about a certain player - they usually hate to single somebody out, for better or worse - with Kitenge stealing the show, the question just had to be thrown up like an "alley." Coach Brown, well, you just know he'll give you the "oop."
"(Hosana)'s a warrior. That's all that I can say. He wears his heart on his sleeve and he's my warrior. He's one of my captains and he does it right. He puts everything on the line. That's why he's our warrior!"
Kitenge himself enjoys the nickname he was given.
"That's my nickname. They call me The Warrior, but that's what we all do. We're all warriors, one through 17. We're just out here to win games, that's all we're here for. Here to make some noise for our country and that's it," the man with the muscles said.
But just reaching the Quarter-Finals will never satisfy the appetites of somebody like Kitenge. Just minutes after defeating Serbia, he was more than ready for the next opponent, with another magnificent center waiting in Philipp Herkenhoff. This Warrior is not afraid of Germany.
"Bring them! That's all I got to say. Bring Germans, that's all I got to say, baby."