04 - 09
July 2016
4 Petr BENDA (Czech Republic)
to read

Czechs in the hunt for Rio 2016 ticket

NYMBURK (2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments) - After climbing seven places in the FIBA World Ranking Men, the Czech Republic are looking to secure one of the three remaining places for the Rio Olympics and begin a new era in the country's basketball history.

Last summer, they assembled their best talents to become a pleasant surprise at the 24-team EuroBasket 2015, claiming an unprecedented seventh-place finish.

In three months' time, they will take to the court at the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Belgrade, Serbia, looking to win four games and claim a ticket for Brazil.

Since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czechs have been trying to re-establish themselves as a major player on the international basketball scene.

That time may have arrived and could be here to stay. Just take a look at the new generation led by the likes of Tomas Satoransky and Jan Vesely and it speaks of the Czech Republic's emergence on the big stage.

In Belgrade, the Czechs will play in Group B along with Japan and Latvia. If they finish in top two of their pool, they will advance to the Semi-Finals and face one of the three teams from a Group A that consists of hosts SerbiaAngola and Puerto Rico.

The winners of the Semi-Finals will face off in the Final on 9 July with the precious ticket to Rio at stake.

Veteran Petr Benda, who plays for CEZ Nymburk, featured for the Czechs last summer and aims to see his country compete in Rio.

This is something absolutely incredible for me. I remember times when Czech basketball was really down, and suddenly a few years later, we have a chance to get to the Olympics. I am glad that I can be part of it. - Benda

Last summer, the Czech Republic faced Japan during their EuroBasket preparations and then split a couple of games with Latvia at the EuroBasket.

Although the 34-year-old is hesitant to boast about the team's progress, he is not afraid of the challenge the OQT presents.

"[We] are a very strong athletic team, balanced in terms of players, a team that every opponent has to be afraid of," he said.

The Czechs will open their OQT campaign the way they finished their EuroBasket campaign - by facing Latvia.

"They are a very strong team which is characterized mainly by the play of the three-point line, with very good shooters," the 2.03m forward said of Latvia. "It will also hugely depend on whether [New York Knicks rookie] Kristaps Porzingis joins the team, obviously, it would make the opponents even stronger."

As for going up against Japan, Benda recalled that it's "a little bit different style of the game".

"We defeated them last year by a larger point difference, so I hope that that their style will not make troubles during the qualification [OQT] either," he said.

Serbia, the Belgrade OQT favourite, is a team with few weak points. I wish we meet them in the Final. - Benda

How the Czechs became the contenders they are today is something Benda himself can't quite explain.

None of us had even dreamed about the seventh place [at EuroBasket 2015]. I think we started playing very collective, athletic, attractive and purposeful basketball that the spectators and other people around basketball must just love. - Benda

"I can't say now whether it's a new era of Czech basketball, I guess we have to wait for the future and see."