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 SLOVENIA (SLO)
1st appearance

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They 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.
ACHIEVEMENTS IN FIBA COMPETITION
 Season   Competition   Placement 
2002 European Championship for Junior Men 2nd place 
2004 European Championship for Men U20 1st place 
2006 U20 European Championship Men 3rd place 
PARTICIPATION IN FIBA COMPETITION
 Season   Competition   Last Achieved Round 
2003 World Championship for Junior Men Finals
2003 European Championship for Men Second Leg
2003 European Championship for Cadets Finals
2004 European Championship for Men U18 Challenge Round
2005 FIBA U21 World Championship for Men Finals
2005 U20 European Championship Men Placings 9th and 10th
2005 EuroBasket Placings 5th and 6th
2005 U18 European Championship Men Placings 9th and 10th
2005 U16 European Championship Men Placings 11th and 12th
2006 FIBA World Championship Eight-Finals
2006 U18 European Championship Men Game for 13th and 14th place
2006 U16 European Championship Men Game for 13th and 14th place
2007 U20 European Championship Men 5th to 6th Place
2007 EuroBasket Placings 7th and 8th
2007 U18 European Championship Men Classification Round
2007 U16 European Championship Men Classification Round
2008 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Men Quarter-Finals
2008 U20 European Championship Men Classification Round
2008 U18 European Championship Men Final
2008 U16 European Championship Men Classification Game for 5th to 6th Place
2009 U20 European Championship Men Classification Round
2009 EuroBasket 3rd to 4th Place
2009 U18 European Championship Men Classification Game for 11th to 12th Place
2009 U16 European Championship Men Classification Game for 3rd to 4th Place
2010 FIBA World Championship Classification (5 - 8)
2010 U20 European Championship Men Classification Game for 11th to 12th Place
2010 U18 European Championship Men Classification Game for 9th to 10th Place
2011 U20 European Championship Men Classification Game for 11th to 12th Place
2011 EuroBasket Classification Game for 7th to 8th Place
2011 U18 European Championship Men Classification Game for 11th to 12th Place
2011 U16 European Championship Men Final
2012 U18 European Championship Men Classification Game for 9th to 10th Place
2012 U16 European Championship Men Classification Round for 13th to 16th Place
2013 U20 European Championship Men Classification Game for 9th to 10th Place
2013 EuroBasket Classification Game for 5th to 6th Place
2013 U18 European Championship Men Classification Game for 15th to 16th Place
2013 U16 European Championship Men Classification Game for 3rd to 4th Place
2014 U20 European Championship Men First Round
2014 U18 European Championship Men First Round
2014 U16 European Championship Men First Round
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