By Aris Barkas/ email@example.com
For years the fate of a national team program depended just on having your stars healthy and fit for the big tournaments. If you were lucky enough and a good generation of players was produced, then you could have a team that would last at least for a decade and would win regularly.
While this is a fact doesn’t really change, the whole approach of the national federations to the way that national teams should be built and sustained has changed beyond any doubt after the arrival of the qualifying windows. Once more, the idea of having qualifying games – even if due to COVID this time around the games were not played in front of the local audiences – proves to be the most solid way to develop the sport on a national level, especially in countries that don’t have a long basketball tradition or strong clubs.
Having the luck to get 12 guys who can get the job done is simply not enough anymore for a national team. In order to be really competitive in the windows, especially if we are speaking about countries which produce top basketball talent, you have to be able to present a really competitive team no matter which are the players involved.
The French basketball federation was the first to understand this, getting the commitment of 37 players to play for the national team from 2017 until the delayed Tokyo Olympics.
The number might be considered really big, however taking into account the duration of the commitment, the scheduling conflicts, injuries, and the need to have a solid core even for the qualifying windows, it more than makes sense.
The national teams’ extended rosters must be deep and continuity is a must. Slovenia, after failing to make it to the FIBA World Cup, managed to get easily qualified to the Eurobasket having a totally different approach compared to the World Cup qualifiers.
Latvia, on the other hand, had just six players who competed in all six Eurobasket qualifying games and the end result was bitter with the country missing the cut.
And even when you have a deep pool of players, tradition, and talent, you must be ready to give your 100%, because the “small” countries are catching up. That was evident in Lithuania’s one-point win over Denmark, with the winners barely surviving and making it to the final phase of the tournament.
Despite not making it to the Eurobasket, Denmark is the poster child of the last two FIBA windows in Europe, proving that there’s a way for the sport to emerge in countries in which basketball is not dominant. Winning with the national team always has a different ring to it in Europe and the way each result was celebrated by the players is one more proof of that. And despite not making it to the final phase, Denmark’s basketball is in a much better shape than it was before the Eurobasket windows.
The qualifiers are a new kind of game, there are here to stay and if you can’t adapt as a national team, then getting to the big stage may end up being complicated.