After taking a look at the European players of the decade and top professional teams of the decade, BallinEurope today turns attention to the national level. Which teams from the 2000s will we still recall fondly in years to come? Below are listed eight key national squads from the passing ten-year span, the unforgettable basketball teams that made their marks in sports history.
• 2001-02 Yugoslavia. Sure, Team USA had taken hits to its perceived invulnerability in international competition between meeting Oscar Schmidt in 1987 and Y2K, but on one day in 2002, the Yugoslavian team slammed the door on American preeminence in basketball forever. And this was after breezing through Eurobasket 2001, winning five of six games by double-digit margins. Yugoslavia was the only country to take golds at Eurobasket and FIBA World competitions with (basically) the same team; the 2002 roster included Dejan Bodiroga, Peja Stojakovic, Marko Jaric, Dejan Milojevic, Vlade Divac and Vladimir Radmanovic, a roster good enough to merit mention among a discussion of greatest basketball teams ever assembled, period.
• 2008-09 Spain. Yugoslavia’s main competition for “National Team of the Decade” title, this Spanish squad finally realized the destiny hinted at since the beginning of the 2000s by overcoming a slow start at Eurobasket 2009 with convincing and dominating tournament play thereafter. The 2008 Olympic Games version of Team Spain might even have been better, but no one was stopping the red, white and blue steamroller in that Olympiad. This star-studded roster – the Gasol Brothers, Rudy Fernández, Ricky Rubio, Jorge Garbajosa, Juan Carlos Navarro, José Calderón, Felipe Reyes, Sergio Llull, etc. – is certainly one to tell the grandchildren about
• 2005-06 Greece. The toughest silver medal ever won? How about Eurobasket champion Team Greece’s second-place finish in the 2006 FIBA World Championship? Being placed in perhaps the tournament’s toughest group that year (Group C included Turkey, Lithuania, Australia and Brazil), Greece nevertheless cruised to a 5-0 start in pool play, then smoked the opposition by 29 and 27 points in the elimination rounds before hanging 101 points on the new-look, team-first Americans. It was therefore not very surprising when the Greeks had nothing left in the tank for Spain in the finals. Though not one Team Greece member averaged 15 points per game for the tournament, Theo Papaloukas did get an all-tournament nod from a roster also featuring Dimitris Diamantidis, Nikos Zizis, Michail Kakiouzis and American killer Sofoklis Schortsanitis.
• 2006-07 Spain. It’s a bit odd to place a FIBA World Championship winner *after* the team they bested in the finals, but this team benefited from Greece knocking out perpetual Spain-killers Team USA. The disappointing silver-medal finish at Eurobasket 2007 did nothing to ease Spain’s reputation as non-finishers in international competition.
• 2003 Lithuania. The basketball-lovingest nation in Europe registered its only Eurobasket gold ever with this squad led by tournament MVP Sarunas Jasikevicius. After surviving unheralded Latvia in the opening game, Team Lithuania then proceeded to roll the competition, including favored Spain in the finals. The win marked Lithuania’s first European championship title since the 1930s (!), a victory that could be the last for some time as the national program undergoes some rebuilding effort. Other studs on the 2003 Lithuania team included Ramunas Siskauskas, Darius Songaila, Ksystof Lavrinovic and Arvydas Macijauskas.
• 2007 Russia. For those who love defense, this Russian team is yours. After limiting opponents to 65 points per game in pool play, Team Russia avenged an earlier loss by utterly shutting down the bigger double-digit pointspread favored Spanish in the finals. Andrei Kirilenko, J.R. Holden and the boys held basket-a-minute Team Spain to just 59 points and stunned The Continent with the gold-medal win.
• 2001 Turkey. Sure, Turkey had homecourt advantage in Eurobasket 2001, but once this ragtag band took out Spain in the final game of pool play, basketball fans were nevertheless ready to sit up and take notice. In the top-heavy half of the elimination-round bracket (one foursome in the quarterfinals featured Turkey, Croatia, Spain and France, while the other side had Yugoslavia, Russia, Latvia and Spain squaring off), Turkey rode the home crowd to eke out victories over Western European powers and put the country on the international basketball map once and for all – not to mention getting worldwide attention for the likes of Hedo Turkoglu, Mehmet Okur and Mirsad Turkcan.
• 2009 Serbia. Though they proved no match for Team Spain in the Eurobasket 2009 finals, this Serbian team was an inspiration for rebuilding squads throughout Europe while establishing Dusan Ivkovic as one of the greatest international coaches of all-time. This team, whose oldest member was 26 at the start of the tournament, shocked Spain on opening day; though the Serbians hit some bumps along the way to the bracket, their smart, selfless style of hoops was enough to overcome Russia and later Slovenia in perhaps the tournament’s finest game. Not only did these relative youngsters bring the decade ‘round full circle for the former Yugoslavian team, they’ve also surely put the fear in Europe for the 2010s: The world best not write off the likes of Milos Teodosic, Bojan Popovic, Uros Tripkovic, Nenad Krstic and most of all Ivkovic come the 2010 FIBA Worlds.