TALLINN (EuroBasket) - For every winner, there is a loser.
For every side that qualifies for a major tournament by the skin of its teeth, there is a side that fails to qualify by the skin of its teeth.
Estonia, hoping to join its Baltic brothers Lithuania and Latvia in the EuroBasket 2013 Final Round, suffered heartbreak at the end of last summer’s Qualification Round.
Despite six wins and four defeats, the same record as Israel and Serbia in Group A, the Estonians missed out on next year’s tournament in Slovenia and thus fell out of the running for a spot in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The Estonians failed to qualify because they lost on a tie-breaker to the Israelis and Serbs.
Tiit Sokk, the Estonia coach, isn’t downbeat though.
He gives an honest assessment of the Estonians’ campaign in this interview to FIBA.com.
FIBA.com: Coach Sokk, what did Estonia do well this summer that made the squad so difficult to play against?
Sokk: This year we didn’t do anything differently, we just continued the work that we had started before. The preparation started when we began to build our team several years ago. We started the process of replacing older players with the youth. Our young players are ambitious and capable of development. One of the team’s strength is the very good team chemistry.
FIBA.com: Estonia did not reach the EuroBasket in Slovenia, yet were there many positives to come out of the Qualification Round for your players?
Sokk: What is very positive is that our players have made big progress over the years. I think that they are ready to play in top clubs in Europe. The team has developed thanks to the development of players. The key players of our team have matured a lot. They have taken many steps forward in individual development. This is due to the fact that they have been playing in high level European leagues during the club season. Even though we did not qualify this time, we ended the qualification with a pretty good feeling.
FIBA.com: Some people may have been surprised that Estonia could win away to Israel and then beat Serbia at home. Were there signs for you that the team would have a great chance, despite being in such a difficult group?
Sokk: Yes, if we look at the teams on paper, then we definitely had the toughest group. These wins that we got, we were expecting to take the next step with the national team and to surprise big basketball countries like Serbia and Israel. At the same time, we must be grateful for this opportunity to play against such (high) level teams. This is also a good experience to get to a new level with the national team. We just weren’t ready yet to participate at the EuroBasket this time.
FIBA.com: What changes, if any, can make this team stronger for the next Qualification Round? Are there young players that will be ready to step in and help next time?
Sokk: Unfortunately, we missed a few main players due to injuries. I believe that next year, when they join, we will be stronger. Also we are hoping for an addition to the senior team from our U20 players who have been playing the U20 European Championship in Division A.
FIBA.com: Will last summer serve as inspiration for Estonian basketball and make everyone even more determined for the years to come?
Sokk: The summer was very positive, the players’ progress and motivation provided an excellent team spirit. I believe that if we continue this work, we will be even stronger in the years to come. As we didn’t manage to qualify for the EuroBasket (2013) this year, we work hard to make sure that next time we qualify.