1st appearance Team videoThey Have Already Made It
By qualifying for the 2006 FIBA World Championship, the Slovenians have already achieved the biggest success in the history of their young country. And their talented team will be under no pressure whatsoever. But coupled with undeniable skills, this could be their biggest asset in Japan.
This time, they’re not after a medal. They are not after anything. Merely being in Japan is arguably the breakthrough Slovenia has been longing for years. Slovenia achieved this feat last summer in Belgrade and make their debut in an international competition other than EuroBasket. Consequently, nobody back home in Slovenia has high expectations. Coach Ales Pipan will once again assemble an incredibly-gifted squad and try to translate this talent into something tangible. If he succeeds, Pipan will be a hero. If he doesn’t? Well, he’s done so much already. “We’re here, and that’s what counts because we’re first timers. I know we have the tools to do more than just participate. But let others carry the burden of being favorites,” says Pipan.
Is there really a potential for more? The answer is self-evident. Five NBA players. One of the best playmakers in Europe. Versatile forwards. Skilled big men. Shooting firepower at all positions. For a small nation with a population under two millions, can anyone ask for more? The only country with such a ratio of talent and population is Lithuania. Of course, Slovenia is nowhere near the Lithuanians in terms of success. But this could well change. And the beginning of the road could well be in Japan.
The explanation for the existence of such a vast pool of talent in small country is in Slovenia’s history. Until 1991, it was part of the former Yugoslavia, the basketball school of which has been famed around the world. Slovenian teams played in the common Yugoslav league, one of the strongest in Europe at that time. Players and coaches from all over Yugoslavia found their home in Slovenia and left a deep mark in its basketball. Fifteen years later, Slovenians still yield the benefits of this era, and its players can boast themselves to belong to the “Yugoslav School of basketball”.
The Slovenian roster is a perfect combination of talent and experience. Take the guards for example. The most likely to start at point guard is Jaka Lakovic. Panathinaikos’ “Commander-in-Chief” is one of the best playmakers in Europe, who is as good a passer and leader as he is a shooter. Alongside him, coach Pipan will probably utilize combo guards Sani Becirovic or Beno Udrih; the first used to be one of the prime talents in Europe prior to a knee injury. After having healed his knees, Sani is still one of the most dangerous guards on the continent. Udrih, meanwhile, is a skilled lefty who provides good services to the San Antonio Spurs, backing up Tony Parker. Among other guards to help out the above trio are the likes of the Lakers’ Sasa Vujacic, but also Ozbolt, Hafnar, Joksimovic or Domen Lorbek. Talent wise, one will agree, the Slovenian backcourt is on par with the best. But wait. Their swingmen are not less talented. Marko Milic is an athletic beast, who will shot down the opponent’s scorer and energize his teammates with high flying dunks. The 207 cm Bostjan Nachbar plays small forward in the NBA and is a mismatch nightmare. Marko Tusek is strong as a bull and bangs inside, but is at the same time lethal from the three point line. The same goes for Matjaz Smodis, who is coming off a terrific year with European champions CSKA Moscow. The icing on the cake are the Slovenian big men. The potential duo of Primoz Brezec and Rasho Nesterovic on the same team, let alone the same lineup, is frightening for any opponent. But the two NBA towers are not alone. Backing them up, Coach Pipan will have the young stud Erazem Lorbek as well as bangers such as Jurak, Slokar or Zupan to do the dirty work.
All that said, the issue in Japan can be broken down in one single fact: Slovenian players themselves often fail to take their own chances seriously. However, last summer's success and the qualification for the World Championship could prove to be a catalyst for a dramatic change of mindset. That milestone achieved, Slovenians will be looking for new leaders and increased team spirit and chemistry. If they succeed, they will be a formidable opponent to reckon with.