The Men’s European Basketball Championships gets going next month with Team Russia in the hunt for a second crown in four years. The squad is now all together in Moscow to begin a training camp.
Russia’s most recent Eurobasket triumph was in 2007, right before the Beijing Olympics. And that victory was the last taste of success for the team led by American David Blatt, who has been building this squad for over five years.
“We had a need and a chance to play a lot of new young players, because we were missing so many of our stars in the last three years. And now those players have the kind of experience and maturity, which is necessary to play at the highest level. And we’ll get back Andrey Kirilenko and hopefully Victor Khryapa, and we should have a good strong team,” says Blatt.
The European Championship starts on August 31 in Lithuania and will last through to September 18. Russia is in group D with Slovenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Belgium and Bulgaria. Not the toughest draw, however, every prep day is important, if the teams to go all the way in Kaunas.
“The preparation schedule has been set and it starts with this first session today. However, we’re still waiting for our main players to join the squad – that’s Andrey Kirilenko, Aleksandr Kaun and Viktor Khryapa,” explains one of the team’s coaches Aleksandr Krasnenkov.
Some players already have international experience for Russia, but David Blatt has introduced fresh talent to the team for this Olympic cycle. The rookies will enjoy full support from seasoned athletes like NBA stars Andrey Kirilenko and Timofey Mozgov.
“Yes, our team is very young and some players haven’t spent even a minute on the court for Russia. But our coach has been building this team for years and I’m sure that if there are any nerves, they’ll disappear after the first game,” believes Timofey Mozgov.
Both Eurobasket finalists will claim a spot at the Summer Olympics in 2012. That is the key task right now mindful that Russia’s men’s basketball is not as strong as it used to be. However, this team has all the prerequisites of returning to the European summit.
“Our main goal is of course to make it to the Olympics and do it with confidence. If it wasn’t for the Games then I would point out another task that we need to tackle immediately – and that’s to assume the leading role in basketball once again – something that Russia’s always had in the past,” says Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.
The men should draw inspiration from their female counterparts as Russia’s women’s team has already qualified for the London Olympics after an earlier triumphant performance at the Eurobasket in Poland.
Back in 2007 both men and women claimed European gold for Russia. And David Blatt, his team and the rest of Russia will be hoping for a repeat this time around.