Wine makers from Kosovo ready to make history in the FIBA Europe Cup
MUNICH (Germany) - It's way too early to describe KB Rahoveci's path from lower divisions to FIBA Europe Cup Qualifiers as a fairytale story, but it kind of is. Just four years after promotion to the Superleague, the highest-tier competition in Kosovo, an up-and-coming club from a young European country will make their debut on the international stage.
When Rahoveci host Romanian side U-BT Cluj-Napoca on October 2, the event will be remembered as a historic one for the home team, no matter the outcome.
"We see that game as a reward for everything the club did in the past few years. Of course we dream of going to Group Phase, but desire is one thing and reality is something else. We are well aware we can hardly compete with a big team like Cluj. So, our only goal is to present ourselves as best as possible in FIBA Europe Cup," said Neven Plantak, head coach of KB Rahoveci.
"CLUJ HAVE A BIGGER BUDGET AND A STRONGER TEAM, BUT WE WILL HAVE FOUR, MAYBE FIVE THOUSAND FANS BEHIND OUR BACKS."
Even though Rahoveci will be the overwhelming underdogs both in Rahovec and in Cluj Napoca, the Croatian coach has assembled a team team from local players and five foreign reinforcements ready to give their Romanian counterparts a run for their money.
One of them is Jure Gunjina, a globetrotter of sorts, who played in Spain, UK and Iceland, before settling in Kosovo.
"One of the things I noticed first is how huge the love towards basketball is here. This little town has soccer team too, but basketball is something else. Last season, our arena averaged 2,000 fans at the games against weaker teams and it was always full in bigger games. U-BT Cluj Napoca have bigger budget and a stronger team, but we will have four, maybe five thousand ‘fanatics’ behind our back in first game," Gunjina said confidently.
The Rahoveci faithful usually turn up in numbers (Courtesy: Kenan Ejupi)
In Rahovec wine making is a major occupation for most inhabitants. Even the nickname of the team is Vreshtarët (Wine Farmers), but basketball is something this little area is becoming more and more famous in the country.
Almost an overnight success, Rahoveci came from lower divisions to a European competition, and in that path they were in two Finals last year - Kosovar Cup and Superleague - just to lose both to Prishtina.
"It was historic success for our club which leaves us a little room for improvement. One thing we can do is to at least repeat last season. A game against a strong opponent such as Cluj is good test for us before the season starts. We're going to go one step at a time and the FIBA Europe Cup Qualifiers is the first one," Plantak concludes.