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'Dream came true': Satoransky leads Czech Republic to Tokyo Olympics
VICTORIA (Canada) - Every team at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament was pigeonholed into one or two storylines, but the Czech Republic’s were, perhaps, the most gripping: A national team that hadn’t qualified for the Olympics since its country gained independence, a veteran roster with several years’ worth of cohesion, and a star player who’s a hero of sorts back home, and whose biggest childhood dream wasn’t to play in the NBA, but to represent his country on the world stage.
Throw in multiple occasions of late-game drama, a game-winning bank shot in overtime and an internet-worthy pre-game beers sound bite, and the Czechs became easy to root for.
The Czech Republic beat Greece in the tournament Finals to win the OQT and qualify for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, wrapping all of those themes into one celebratory and emotion-filled July 4.
“Today, we made the dream come true for our national team,” said Tomas Satoransky, the team’s captain and the tournament’s TISSOT MVP.
Satoransky, who joined the national team in 2012, logged 49 games in the blue and white before earning his ticket to the Olympics. He had moments of brilliance in Victoria, like his 19 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds in a thrilling win against Uruguay, and his bank shot that gave the Czechs a lead with 1.8 seconds left in overtime in their sensational Semi-Final win against Canada, the tournament favorites.
But mostly, the 29-year-old point guard was consistent. He ended the four-game tournament averaging 16 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1 steal per game. He also made 82.4 percent of his free throws and averaged 33.1 of a possible 40 minutes per game.
He and his teammates waited a long time to reach the Olympics. Patrik Auda, Ondrej Balvin and Jakub Sirina also have 40-plus national team games on their resumes. Four others have at least 30 national caps. That experience and chemistry helped. So did the Czechs’ ritual of sharing a beer together the night before every game.
"It's the Czech mentality," Satoransky said. "We have our meeting before the games where we sit with each other, laugh, talk about different stuff, not really worry about the game, drink a beer and then we are focused."
The Czech Republic men’s basketball team has never played in the Olympics under its own flag - since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.
"It means so much to us and I’m so proud of the team and what they did today," Satoransky said. "This goes to our team and all our fans."
At the forefront of it is Satoransky, one of four Czechs to ever play in the NBA - national team teammate Jan Vesely is another. Despite that distinction, he says reaching the Olympics - not the NBA - is his most cherished achievement.
"To go to the Olympics, that was my biggest dream since I was a kid. Bigger than going to the NBA," he said. "I was a big fan of the Olympics. It means so much that you can go there and represent your country. Not even in my wildest dreams could I imagine that I would go there with basketball."
The Czechs head to Tokyo to join a competitive Group A that includes France, Iran and the United States - the most decorated Olympic men’s basketball program ever with 15 gold medals.
Satoransky and the Czechs won’t be favored in Tokyo. But they weren’t in Victoria, either.
"At this point, it’s obviously about having fun, but we are not going there just to be there. We don’t want to go there and just take pictures with them," Satoransky said. "I’m pretty sure everybody wants to show what they got."