As we await the two-game showdown between France and Belgium for the final spot in the FIBA Eurobasket 2009 tournament and Eurobasket Division B pool play enters the homestretch, Ball in Europe takes a speculative look at three national programs we might be hearing a lot more about in 2010 and beyond.
Finland. When Finland capped pool play in Group B of the Eurobasket Additional Qualification Road with an impressive 95-89 victory over Italy, an exclamation point was emphatically put on the team’s success in this tournament.
Aside from the young Ukraine team, few squads have shown the marked progession in adaptability and improvement this summer that the Finns did game to game. Entering the Euroleague Additional Qualifying Road as a 500/1 shot to win the tournament (not to mention a bit of a punchline), Team Finland emerges from the AQR as a promising squad with suddenly relevant names beyond un-retired (and clearly fit to play)free agent Hanno Möttölä.
Among those to keep on eye on include 21-year-old point guard Petteri Koponen (Virtus Bologna), who has gone for 13.8 points, 2.75 assists, three rebounds and one steal per game in 12 tournament games for Team Finland; and 25-year-old sophomore pro-baller Shawn Huff (Kavala BC), who contributed 10.4 rpg and 3.8 rpg to Finland’s group play success.
Unfortunately for him, 29-year-old stud Teemu Rannikko took something of a preemptive PR hit when he switched teams from now-Euroleaguers BC Khimski to CB Granada, but Spanish league fans will surely thrill to Rannikko’s style in 2009-10.
All in all, Finland could be poised to threaten in the early rounds of Eurobasket 2011 with up-and-comers capable of making people forget all about the immortal Hans von Blumenstock. (The downside to Team Finland re-reemergence as potential basketball power: A significant dropoff in the number of easy jokes at BallinEurope.com.)
Montenegro. Over the course of the team’s 6-0 run in Eurobasket 2009 Division B play, game reports have habitually described Team Montenegro’s wins as “decisive,” “dominant,” and “resounding.” The Montenegrin “cruise” and “coast” to victory, while the scoring attack is inevitably “balanced.” Saturday night, it was more of the same with Montenegro’s 86-63 thumping of hosts Austria already bagging the team a spot in the playoff round with two round-robin games left to play.
An appearance in the Eurobasket 2011 tournament seems likely if not downright probable for Team Montenegro; they’ll be building a foundation on today’s quality roster which includes Panathinaikos boys Nikola Pekovic and Vlado Scepanovic, Nemanja Gavranic (Buducnost), Mihalio Kasalica (Bonus Niksic), and import Omar Cook of Unicaja.
Amazing it is to think that Eurobasket 2009 Division B is the very first international competition for the independent Montenegro team. No way is it the last.
Bosnia & Herzegovina. Despite the ugly choke job against Belgium in what was perhaps the most important game in this squad’s short history, Team Bosnia & Herzegovina played all out of proportion to the country’s size (pop. just under 4 million) and should remain at least bubbling under for next year’s tournament.
Currently at no. 40 in the FIBA rankings, Team Bosnia & Herzegovina contained that proverbial scintillating blend of old and new in the Eurobasket Additional Qualifying Round tournament. Nineteen-year-old Nihad Dedovic chased his successful showing for FC Barcelona in the Nike Junior Invitational Tournament with a team-leading 10.6 points per game in the AQRs. Keep an eye out for this youth who can hang with the big boys already.
Representing the old(er) guard for Bosnia & Herzegovina in the tourney was Kenan Bajramovic, who will play with Alba Berlin in 2009-10 and has recently done stints with Lietuvos Rytas, Turk Telekom Ankara and BC Kyiv. At 28, Bajramovic showed peak play in the Eurobasket AQRs, putting in an average stat line of 10.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, one steal and nearly one block per game over the course of the tournament.
The problem, again, was psychological. Coach Mensur Bajramovic offered a simple explanation for that ugly 23-point loss that ended Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Eurobasket dream: “Belgium were hungrier than we were.” If we don’t hear this line in 2011, it may be that Team Bosnia & Herzegovina has matured. And then look out, Europe, for the dark horse will ride again!