EUROBASKET - European teams react to draw
VILNIUS (EuroBasket 2011) - Twenty-two of the national sides that will compete in the recently expanded, 24-team EuroBasket, know their first-round opponents after Sunday’s draw in Lithuania.
Italy caught a break when FIBA Europe expanded the tournament because they had only managed a third-place finish in Division A, Group A, last summer behind Montenegro and Israel. While the larger field meant they escaped watching events in Lithuania from the sidelines, the new format has made for some very intimidating looking groups.
Coach Simone Pianigiani is excited about the opportunity but knows it’s going to be tough.
"For sure, this round is a huge obstacle, a first round that sends half of the teams back home, but our motivation is strong, just as our pride to play in this European Championship and to play in a nation that breathes basketball."
Drawn in the same group as three of the most exciting young teams in European basketball - France, Germany and Serbia - Pianigiani can’t offer any predictions because the make-up of teams won’t be known until this summer.
Even he doesn’t know the players that will turn up for Italy.
Pianigiani would like to have Danilo Gallinari of the New York Knicks but he hasn’t been able to play due to injuries the past several summers.
"To be honest, at this time, it's difficult to examine team by team because the rosters are confirmed when getting closer to the tournament,” Pianigiani said.
If plenty of teams are uncertain about which players they will be able to count on in Lithuania, Russia don't even know who will be coaching them.
They are hoping that David Blatt will stay but that has yet to be confirmed although he told FIBA.com on Monday morning: "Right now, the direction is very positive and I am in serious discussions with the new president of the Russian federation."
Blatt, who guided the country to gold at EuroBasket 2007, is at the helm of Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel.
Alongside side Russia in Group D are Slovenia, Bulgaria, Belgium, Georgia and Ukraine.
Slovenia, who played very well at the FIBA World Championship last year will have have taken some heart from the results of Sunday's draw.
Miha Zupan of Spartak Saint-Petersburg was in that side that reached the Quarter-Finals.
"On paper we got the best competitors, but this does not mean that we have easy games,” Zupan said.
“On the contrary, I expect that will be difficult, since all teams that will play against us will be very motivated as we are considered favorites.
“I hope the national team gathers all the best players and that everyone is healthy.”
Bulgaria coach Rosen Barchovski believes his national side has a great opportunity to win some games at this summer’s 24-team EuroBasket in Lithuania.
Barchovski thinks his team was fortunate to avoid some of the real heavyweights that ended up in Group A.
“It was quite dramatic when the participants in group A were drawn,” Barchovski said.
“We are satisfied.
“We are drawn in a group with teams we can beat – Georgia, Belgium and Ukraine are teams we could do well against and even Slovenia and Russia and not teams at the class of Spain or Turkey.”
Scariolo considers draw
If Barchovski is relieved that many of the European heavyweights landed elsewhere, Spain coach Sergio Scariolo, whose Spainish team did land in Group A, doesn’t believe Sunday’s draw did his team any favors.
"There are two (Group A) rivals that finished higher than we did (in the World Championship)," he said, "Turkey and Lithuania, a team that is preparing well for the Olympics, Great Britain, and a high class level team like Poland with someone playing in the NBA like (Marcin) Gortat.
"The strength of our rivals is without question.
"Turkey has proved to be a team made up of NBA-caliber players as well as players of the highest European level and Lithuania has the home-court advantage, which we all know will be crucial.”
Great Britain are hoping to be confirmed participants at the Olympics as the host nation in March, when the FIBA Congress meets in Lyon, France.
They would like to go into the London Games on the back of an impressive summer.
"For me it's less about the strength of any group and more about getting the strongest team together," Britain coach Chris Finch said.
"If we can accomplish that, we have a chance to do some nice things.
"If not, then all the groups are equally difficult."
The ‘Balkan Group’
Group C is unofficially going to be known as the ‘Balkan Group’ with Greece, Croatia, FYR of Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The sixth team will be an additional qualifier.
"The draw is not important," said Greece guard Nikos Zisis said.
"It's only the first step, and if you want to point high, you have to beat great teams.
Greece’s Vassilis Spanoulis is hungry for success.
Both he and Zisis were in the gold-medal winning side of EuroBasket 2005, silver-medal winning team of the 2006 FIBA World Championship and bronze-medal winning squad of EuroBasket 2009.
"The draw is always talking in theory but could be described as good," Spanoulis said.
"Whether in practice it is easy or difficult will be shown only on the court.
"We'll put forth a great effort this summer to get a medal and bring Greece back to the podium.”