The Slovenia Times

Proving grounds



When Eurobasket 2009 began, no one knew what to expect from the Slovenian side. On paper, the team looked good, but they did so in all the previous tournaments when they never quite reached their potential; they were always eliminated in the early stages.

But this year, the new head coach Jure Zdovc, together with his players, announced that this was the year of change and a year when they would finally reach what they deserve. He even went as far to say that anything short of a medal would be seen as a failure. He did not back down from this goal even when he lost some key players - Matjaž Smodiš and Beno Udrih - to injuries in the preparations period.

But when the tournament started, all doubts were gone. The team played great and effective basketball, which was exciting to watch. In the early stages, they dominated most of their opponents, losing only to the strong Spanish side and finishing on top after the first and second stage of the tournament.

Next in line was the very good and unpredictable Croatian team in the quarter-finals. The game was close and, when it already looked that all the effort and hard work from the early stages will go to waste, Slovenia made a great comeback to come out on top and advance to the semi-finals, where the young Serbian team was already waiting.

Unfortunately, due to some additional injuries, which thinned down an already decimated Slovenian group even more, Serbia celebrated after the overtime. A similar story happened in the bronze medal game, where injuries and some bad luck in the end prevented Slovenia from taking down the Greek team.

Living and breathing basketball

Due to the great performances of the Slovenian team, people were living and breathing basketball for two weeks. Wherever you went, it was all people were talking about. Even those who normally don't follow this sport jumped on the bandwagon. Slovenia was overjoyed over basketball.

When the team reached the semi-finals, many people went on a 10-hour trip to Katowice in Poland, to cheer to cheer on the home team as it played its final matches. According to the fans there, Katowice could have easily been mistaken for a Slovenian town, as there were thousands of "green jerseys" walking around. Even fans from other countries were so impressed with the Slovenian performance that they cheered for them.

Those who did not go to Katowice prepared a warm welcome for the players and coaches, first at the airport and then in the centre of the capital Ljubljana, as they returned home. This achievement was like winning a gold medal, as all the guys gave 110 percent in the tournament and really played their hearts out.

"MVP, MVP, MVP..."

Throughout the tournament one of the Slovenian players stood out from the rest. Not only because of his height, at 210 cm, but because of his excellent performance from one game to another. He really dominated all of his opponents and nobody was able to stop him - Erazem Lorbek. Whatever the team needed, he got the job done. He scored, he rebounded, he passed and in the end, the most important part, he won. His performances did not go unnoticed, as he was placed among the top five players when the competition ended. If Slovenia would have reached the finals, he would be named most valuable player for sure. The crowds were going crazy for him; whenever he had the ball, people scanned "MVP, MVP!"

A truly great recognition for a great young player, and we are already counting the days to see him perform again next year at the World Basketball Championship in Turkey.


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