Ukraine and The Czar

After Falling to Croatia in the quarterfinals 84-72 on Thursday, Ukraine bounced back to beat Italy 66-58 on Friday and earn an automatic bid to the FIBA World Championship for the first time ever!  Today we played a competitive game against Slovenia for fifth place in front of their spirited home crowd, but unfortunately we came up short 69-63. I couldn’t be prouder of our team’s effort in this tournament and our historic run to the Elite 8. Now our players will return to their respective teams to get ready for the start of the regular season. Look forward to regrouping in Spain next summer to compete in the 2014 FIBA World Cup!

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Photos courtesy of FIBA Europe’s official EuroBasket 2013 website.

Ukraine and The Czar

For the first time in the national basketball team’s history, Ukraine is among the eight teams that advanced to the EuroBasket 2013 Quarterfinals. We’ll play Croatia, the top seed in our group of four, for a shot at the semis.  Rooted in a rich basketball tradition, Croatia is tall, long, athletic and very skilled, so we’ll have our hands full. CRO vs. UKR tips off Thursday, Sept. 19 at 11:45AM ET at Stozice Arena in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

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Photos courtesy of FIBA Europe’s official EuroBasket 2013 website.

Ukraine and The Czar

Photo courtesy of Anatolii RiabukhaUkraine fought hard in Game 7, but fell to undefeated Croatia 84-80.

We were down 13 at halftime, but kept battling back. Steve Burtt’s six threes and 22 points helped us stay within striking distance. And Oleksiy Pecherov nailed a 3-pointer to close the gap to four with 13 seconds remaining.

But Croatia made big shots when they needed to, had some huge offensive rebounds and ultimately held on for the win. Their second unit outscored ours 55 to 17.

Croatia must be commended for having a terrific tournament. Their record stands at 6-0, and they have clinched first place in Group C.

Ukraine is 5-2 heading into our final game of the EuroBasket Qualification Round against Cyprus on Saturday. We look to end our successful run with a strong performance at home in Yuzhne.

Ukraine and The Czar

Following Tuesday’s tough 80-79 loss to Croatia in overtime, Ukraine bounced back with a 68-47 win over Cyprus in Game 4. We got a big lift off the bench from Zaba Zabirchenko and Max Pustozvonov, who contributed 15 points and 14 points respectively. Maxym Korniyenko pulled down 9 rebounds, and Slava Kravtsov had 8 boards. Our record now stands at 3-1 in the qualifying round for EuroBasket 2013. After a short break Ukraine will head to Pécs to face Hungary in Game 5 on August 30th.

Photos courtesy of Anatolii Riabukha.

USA Basketball: 2010 FIBA World Championships

Today USA Basketball officially kicked off its campaign to reclaim the World Championship in Istanbul, Turkey with a decisive 106-78 win over Croatia in their first game of the FIBA prelims. I got a chance to talk with Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim last week. Both are so proud of the effort their young USA squad has put forth so far. But they know it’s an arduous road to the Finals (they must play five games in six days during the first week of competition), and they understand what a difficult task it will be to go the distance. As basketball has increasingly gained global popularity over the years, the level of talent has steadily increased among international clubs. So coaches and players alike know they have to respect every opponent.

Team USA played solid ball in the exhibition games leading up to the first round, beating China, Lithuania and France fairly easily. However their friendly against the 2006 defending Champion Spain was anything but, and it wound up being an unbelievable game. The highly anticipated matchup was a huge event in Madrid and there were a number of luminaries in attendance including Pau Gasol and soccer super star Cristiano Ronaldo. Spain’s much more experienced, veteran team proved a tough test for the U.S. But Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant were sensational – Rose stepped up on offensive with a huge left-handed layup to put the USA ahead by one point at the end of the fourth, and Durant followed up on defense, blocking Spain’s would-be game winner as the clock wound down. Coach K also pulled a great tactical move by going to zone defense (Boeheim’s specialty) during Spain’s final possession, causing a little confusion on Spain’s part. For the USA to be able to hang on and come away with the 1-point win had to be a confidence booster for this young squad, as well as a warning to their opponents.

Greece is another very good, veteran team that managed to upset USA in the Semifinals four years ago. Though our roster was filled with stars, the Greek squad had the overwhelming advantage in terms of experience, having played together for three years. Our team’s lack of familiarity in regards to playing with one another wound up costing us a shot at the title.

And lack of experience in terms of both playing together and competing at the international level is still a concern for the fresh new faces who comprise the majority of this year’s roster. Though Wednesday’s 87-59 win over Greece was heartening, you can’t put too much stock in Team USA’s sweep of the friendlies. Greece was missing a few of their best players including center Ioannis Bourousis. And most teams won’t show all of their cards until the tournament gets underway. USA’s team chemistry has looked good from the start of training camp, but players still need to figure out their roles and how to play together. Practice time has been a scarce commodity. But the experience of playing a handful of international competitions heading into the tournament was invaluable.

It will be interesting to watch these young players grow up and develop in the international arena. A number of them will be the nucleus that moves forward to the next Olympics. While we’d expect to see marquee guys like Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Howard and Melo return to Team USA, their participation is not certain. And if they do compete in the next Olympics, it will probably be their last. So we will see this nucleus that we’re cultivating step forward to replace a lot of these veterans when they retire from international competition.

In addition to many formidable opponents, Team USA will also have to contend with the intensity of the impassioned crowd that will fill the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul. It’s going to be a wild scene. I’ve been there, I know. The enthusiastic fans never stop with the cheering and chanting and singing – they carry on throughout the whole game. It’s a great basketball atmosphere.

Team USA may not be the overwhelming favorites in the 2010 Championship Tournament, but with our extreme athleticism and unquestionable talent we certainly rank among those teams expected to seriously contend for the Naismith. The key will be to create cohesiveness in a short period of time and to continue to improve with every game.

I’m excited for the next couple weeks of tournament play. I only wish that I could hear Marv call the games this weekend because he does such a great job with the pronunciation of the Croatian and Slovenian names. I’ve always admired him for that.

Next up: USA vs. Slovenia airs on Sunday, August 29th at 9:30 AM ET on ESPN2 and again at 6 PM ET. Click here to view the rest of the 2010 FIBA World Championship broadcast schedule.