Ukraine and The Czar

The EuroBasket 2013 Qualification Tournament tipped off on Wednesday. In addition to the eight teams that have already secured their places at next year’s European Championships, including the host country Slovenia, sixteen additional teams will join through this qualifying round.

The 31 competing teams have been split into five groups. The top two teams in each group and the four best third place teams will advance. Our group consists of Ukraine, Hungary, Austria, Croatia and Cyprus. We’ll play all four opponents once in our country and once in theirs over the next few weeks.

Each team is allowed to carry up to 24 players throughout the tournament. Though only 12 can be activated for each game, we can change the lineup nightly. We will carry 16 players in case of injuries and also so that we can juggle the roster should we need to go small against some teams and big against others.

Ukraine opened up against Hungary in Game 1. We knew Hungary would be a difficult opponent. Their starting forward Peter Lorant is a jump-shooting big man and their most consistent scorer. Ádám Hanga is a very athletic wingman who they like to isolate because he has the ability to go one on one and score off the dribble. Their point guard Obie Trotter is also a terrific scorer and an excellent outside shooter.

Hungary was hot from the field in the first half, drilling seven 3-pointers. They got an outstanding performance from Hanga, who had 17 points at halftime and wound up with 21 points for the game. Ákos Horváth and Miklos Szabo both chipped in with 10 points.

We were down 41-39 at the half and 59-57 at the end of third quarter. But we responded with a big fourth quarter thanks to a total team effort. We got a great lift from Sergii Gladyr, who contributed 19 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in the game. Slava Kravtsov recorded 13 points, 3 rebounds and 6 huge blocks, and Steve Burtt added 12 points and 4 assists. Kyryl Natyazhko came off the bench and got us 11 points, and Alexi Pecherov came in and hit two huge baskets for us, while Zaba Zabirchenko went 2 for 2 from the arc and 2 for 2 at the foul line. Final score: Hungary 71, Ukraine 77.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photos courtesy of Anatolii Riabukha.

After bouncing back from disappointing losses in our last two exhibition games, we hope to pick up some momentum after our Game 1 victory. In Saturday’s Game 2 we will face Austria, who are coming off an exciting overtime win against Cyprus. Will be another tough test for our young team, but I’m confident we’ll come out on top.