With little attention to chronological order, Emmet Ryan looks back on the stories that defined EuroBasket and the life around the tournament. From an emotional Gabe Olaseni through the dominance of Luka Doncic, and whatever else he could think of in between, BiE’s editor looks back on the 2017 competition and how he eventually found a chance for some refreshment down the final straight
“Are you alright?” She said. A Serbian journalist, with B92 I think, was the first to formally react to the increased noise from my desk in the media centre. Dublin and Mayo were playing the All-Ireland Gaelic football final and the stress was hitting me through the final 15 minutes or so. The swearing was continuous and getting progressively louder. Pacing behind a chair, holding the chair and leaning into the screen, lots of gesticulation. Another journalist walks down, looks at the screen, turns to the others and goes “Gaelic football” to which he gets a broad response of “Ah, Irish” and once full time hit with Dublin winning all was calm again.
The last day. Bronze, ah who cares outside of the the Juan Carlos Navarro farewell party unless Russia pull the upset. Everything was about a genuinely unexpected final. Slovenia’s journey was the stuff of dreams but Serbia’s road there, well that was a slog and a half. Even before the latter began its quest, the tournament had a phenomenon on its hands: Markkamania
Lauri Markkanen was in a rough spot this summer. He’d impressed at college and looked lottery grade material going into the draft. The nature of the Jimmy Butler trade however heaped the pressure on as his link to that meant fans in Chicago were wondering what exactly they were getting. Bulls fans were never going to heap half the pressure on Markkanen that he’d get back home as in Helsinki, the hopes of a nation fell on him. He delivered and then some through an amazing week of basketball, a 4-1 record in the group stage started by his ludicrous display late against France. He had another against Poland and the young man became a phenom. His numbers were wild and from the Tarantula Bar in Kadıköy there were no pictures but social media was a scene of people losing their collective minds over the young man who had taken over the tournament on its first night.
The opening night also had the small matter of Israel beginning their casserole of nonsense of a competition, a 1-4 record where the 1 was somehow over eventual quarter finalists Germany thanks to a dagger by Guy Pnini. Lithuania lost to Georgia, where the former would win its next 4 while the latter rolled a doughnut through the rest of the competition. EuroBasket is just weird sometimes.
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In Istanbul it started with the one big hope for Great Britain, the first of a repeated string of valiant efforts that ended in defeat. Throughout the fight and the defensive weakness of the British squad, one man stood out and kept on impressing. Gabe Olaseni set the tone for what would prove to be the most efficient tournament of any player in the competition by a broad margin, his final figure 26.8 EffPG being more than 3 points clear of his nearest competitor. For some context, 4 of the top 10 in that category made the medal rounds while the next man on the list not to make the knockout stages was Tornike Shengelia at 14th. What really brought his tournament together however was Olaseni’s recognition at the end of what Joe Prunty had done for him.
Oh, yeah, Serbia. The Latvia game went great. As expected the Baltic state could bring loads on offence but Serbia just had too much as Bogdan Bogdanovic went off. Boban Marjanovic was a big beautiful man, a trend that continued throughout the tournament, stopping to chat freely with journalists in the mixed zone no matter how mundane the question. The mood was good for the whole Serbian roster after that result, like all would be alright without all the missing guys.
Russia took their confidence away in a 40 minute clinic 24 hours later. Things were not going good for them and they needed that rest day that was coming on Sunday. Everyone in Istanbul did. The hurling final was that day, sitting upstairs looking across the Bosphorous from my balcony, seeing Europe from Asia, I listened as Galway beat Waterford to lift the Liam McCarthy cup. Both sides had been waiting a long time for a title but it was still an unfortunate one as my flatmate’s from Waterford so I was hoping the sun would shine on his boys.
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Back to work on Monday, back to the beatings for Great Britain. This time it was Latvia in an utterly bonkers game. Kristaps Porzingis was a dunking machine, Davis Bertans set a national record for three pointers, Latvia looked capable of winning by 50 but ended up only squeaking home with a 5 point win. Turkey got their three amigos going against Serbia but it wasn’t enough. The revelation of Cedi Osman, Furkan Korkmaz, and Kenan Sipahi, as a trio for a Turkey side in transition was encouraging but their tournament would eventually go the way everyone expected.
Super Tuesday went every which way. Latvia pounded Russia, Serbia disposed of Great Britain, and Turkey beat Belgium. The latter involved more than its share of distractions up in the media tribune. My eyes were on the hoops but my ears were dedicated to RTE Radio 1 and coverage of Ireland vs Serbia in the World Cup qualifiers. By the time Serbia took the lead, I’d stopped listening. The efforts to get Korkmaz postgame, one I failed at repeatedly, and the need to get the post-game press conference kept me safe from the scoreline until it was too late. Ireland lost, I became a star in Russia on the back of a Philip Profokiev interview for Sports.ru, then it back to work on Thursday. With Russia and Serbia holding serve, all eyes were on Latvia against Turkey. The only drama left in the group. But before the game, the folks from Telegraf in Serbia interviewed me and that led to this amazing photo.
Latvia eventually proved too strong and that lone win would set in motion the shape of the knockout rounds.
With defeat, Turkey landed Spain in the last 16. They fought valiantly but their exit was the end of the crowds until the very end. Most of the remaining games would be played in a near empty Sinan Erdem Dome. With Latvia winning, they avoided Spain and got to beat up Montenegro. Instead they landed a game against Slovenia, who had routed a Ukraine team on the back of a magical performance by Luka Doncic.
The quarter final match-up was the game of the tournament. Arguably Slovenia’s last three games were the three best of the competition but while slots 2 and 3 are debatable, nothing could top the slobberknocker in the Sinan Erdem Dome. Kristaps Porzingis scored loads, Goran Dragic came big, and, when it rally mattered, Doncic was the man. Spain had another game where the opponent fought valiantly but Germany, like Turkey before them, never really had enough for the star-studded Spaniards.
Over on the other side Serbia made hard work of an overachieving Hungary side while Lithuania, having come to Istanbul looking like contenders, got beaten up by Greece who arrived looking an utter mess. The Greeks would fall to Russia after taking the
stupid, foolish, nonsensical, bold strategy of not using substitutes in the quarter finals of their seventh game of the tournament.
Markkamania’s momentum didn’t make it to Istanbul. Finland were high fliers in Helsinki, giving Slovenia their closest game on the scoreboard in the whole tournament, but Nicolo Melli pounded him off the floor in Istanbul as Italy romped to victory. Ettore Messina’s lads tried to kill the game against Serbia but they just weren’t good enough.
So on to the semi finals and the faint hope of Slovenia pulling an…oh wait, they just socked the everything out of Spain. Doncic flirted with a triple double, Dragic was great again, Gasper Vidmar owned the Gasols, and Anthony Randolph, fresh from fighting Porzingis, was in fine form. Serbia were far too good for Russia the following night, despite somehow ending up in a close one and it was time for the one decent night’s drinking of the knockout phase.
That was entirely my own fault for not researching where I was staying and ending up in an area that wasn’t pub central. Never fear, the Lost Beer Café with Alex Proshuta and Tristan Lavalette was totally worth the trip. A great evening talking about every kind of sport and trying to work out what exactly the chap on a table behind us had done to make his other half really angry at him.
And Sunday. The Dubs have won, Navarro’s been chucked up in the air a few times. The time to go home nears but there is one game left. Serbia looking for a first title under that name, Slovenia with their first ever medal at a major tournament secure looking to complete the ultimate Cinderella story. Dragic did his thing, Doncic did work but Serbia were never let out of the game. Then Doncic dropped and it looked like the fairytale might end. Oh, yeah, Klemen Prepelic and the unheralded crew were having none of that as they held off the Serbian fightback. Gold for Slovenia, home for me, and another four years before we get to do it all again.
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