29 June, 2021
04 July
11 Blake Schilb (CZE)
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Czech Republic, Greece set to battle for Olympic berth

VICTORIA (Canada) - Everyone pencilled in  Canada and Turkey into the Final.

Czech Republic and Greece erased that notion.

Two resilient teams - both teams  lost their tournament openers before winning two straight knockout games to reach the Final -  square off for a ticket to Tokyo for the Summer Olympics.

"We came here for one reason, with plenty of confidence," Greece coach Rick Pitino said.

Cardiac Czechs

Their Semi-Final thriller made it easy to forget about the heartstopper they played in the Group Phase.

The Czechs survived Uruguay, 80-79, before squeaking past Canada, 103-101 in overtime, during an instant classic Semi-Final showdown. Both games featured plenty of last-minute drama and late, game-winning shot attempts.

Uruguay missed their game-winner, keeping Czech Republic alive. Two days later, Tomas Satoransky sunk Canada's dreams when he banked in a last-second overtime dagger.


"I asked him if he called bank on it," Czech Republic's Blake Schilb said of Satoransky's game-clincher. "He said no, I called game on it."

The Czechs were inconsistent and sloppy at times during their Group Phase games, but cleaned it up against Canada. They lead the field in rebounding (44 per game) thanks to centers Patrik Auda and Ondrej Balvin, who also rank first and second, respectively, in field-goal percentage. Balvin is the only player in Victoria averaging double-digits in rebounds (12) and pulled down 19 against Canada.

But there are still things to address. The Czechs rank fifth in the six-team tournament in field-goal shooting (46.2 percent) and commit more turnovers than anyone else (18 per game). They also rank fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.13).

Yet, they find ways to win. Their rebounding is key, but so is their defense.

In the Czechs' two wins, their opponents have shot under 44 percent from the floor. Balvin, Auda and Co. have also contributed 3.7 blocked shots per game.

Plus, there's Satoransky. The team captain has been a steady presence and does it all on the floor as he enters the Final averaging 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists.

Not to mention the shot that got his team to the title stage.

"He's a great leader, he's our captain, and the energy he provides for us, you can't put some type of notion on that," said Schilb, who was also crucial to Czech Republic's Semi-Final win with a game-high 31 points. "It's something that you need on every team."

Czech Republic men's basketball hasn't played in the Olympics under their own flag. They qualified for their first World Cup in 2019 and can check another box with a win against Greece.

"We want to make some more history for Czech basketball," Schilb said. "It starts tomorrow."

Greece in High Gear

Watch Greece and you wouldn't know their roster is a shell of what it could be.

They're organized, efficient and balanced, and they're doing it without some of the country's best players.

The missing pieces provided the pre-tournament storylines. Now, one win away from their first Olympics since 2008, the guys who are here are the story.

"I told them numerous times now ... it's a great honor coaching you as people," Pitino said. "I'll never forget this team."

Greece has been dominant in wins against China and Turkey, beating them by 25 and 18 points, respectively. They enter the Final leading the tournament field in several statistics, including field-goal percentage (50.2), assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3) and efficiency rating (345).

They've had a different leading scorer in every game of the tournament and five players are averaging at least 10 points per game - tied for most in the field with Czech Republic.

Greece blitzed China early, but had to rally against Turkey. They trailed 22-8 after the first quarter, but warmed up as the game wore on and outscored them 73-41 the rest of the way.


Nick Calathes, Kostas Sloukas, Georgios Papagiannis and Konstantinos Mitoglou were among the players who stepped up at various points in the game. Calathes and Sloukas, sharing point guard duties, rank second and third, respectively, in the tournament in assists, while Mitoglou and Papagiannis hold down the middle, leading the team in rebounding and blocks. Giannoulis Larentzakis averages a team-best 14.3 points per game.

That's the balance and unselfishness it takes to win this tournament, Pitino said.

"I just wanted to put an A-plus chemistry team together where, regardless of whether you play eight minutes or you play 20 minutes, you're all in about Greece," he said. "And tonight I told the guys after the game, 'You spell character tonight G-R-E-E-C-E.'"

Pitino's road to coaching the Greek national team is a long one. He's achieved a lot in his 45 years in the business, including two NCAA Division I national championships. But getting this team to the Olympics would stand alone in uniqueness.

The key, to this point? Something that works no matter which group of players you lead.

"I think more than anything else, what I keep exuding in them is the confidence of how great I think they are," Pitino said. "It's not always about offenses and defenses and matchups, it's about raising the self-esteem of players. That's the job of a coach just as much as calling a timeout or making a play."

"Coach always says to us to have confidence," Sloukas added. "I think it's the most important thing about basketball, to be sure about your quality, what you can do on the court. Coach believes in us."