|Jan Vesely is the poster child for a new generation of promising Czech players|
By Dimitris Kontos
Nobody anticipated that the Czech Republic would enter the two games
which will decide their fate at EuroBasket 2013 with the tournament's
top rebounder in their ranks - not even the man himself.
"No, I didn't expect it, I just came here to do my best and help the
team make some success," Jan Vesely, who averages 11.7 boards-per-game
going into Sunday's clash with Georgia, told fibaeurope.com.
During the Czechs' first three games in First Round Group C, the explosive, versatile 2.10m forward spent a good chunk of his time on the court - which amounts to no less than 33 minutes per night - playing at the center position.
He would not have considered battling in the low post with the likes of Marc Gasol or Marcin Gortat during the earlier stages of his career.
"I mean, of course nobody likes to fight under the basket," the
23-year-old Moravian admits.
"At first I used to think I do not want to play inside, because the
'5' men are the big guys, but I think we have found a good middle way.
"We have a couple of players who can play at the '3' or '4' spot and I
can play at the '3' sometimes, so there is a group of guys who can
rotate positions easily.
"Our centers are not the typical big men anyway, they are '4'-'5' men so
our game is based on that."
"If there is an opportunity to make success at different positions, we
will do it, this is our strength, that we switch positions.
The Czechs' young floor general, Tomas Satoransky, underlined the
importance of Vesely to the team after his fantastic performance in
Game 2 against Poland, which brought the Czech Lions their first win
in the tournament.
"Czech basketball needs him," Satoransky proclaimed.
"We need his game, we need the energy he brings."
Vesely cherishes the role of the energy pack that propels possibly the
fastest-paced side at EuroBasket into an even higher gear.
"I like to play with high energy, running up and down and be active on
defence," he said.
"This is my game and this is how I like to play basketball."
EUROBASKET, A DIFFERENT LEVEL
Vesely had showcased his enormous talent at U16 and U18 level with the
national team, but he had only played for the senior side in 2009,
during their failed campaign to qualify to EuroBasket in Poland.
"This is my first EuroBasket and I enjoy it a lot," he said.
"I've played for the national team in youth championships, I've been
on the national team for a long time but this is a different level.
"There is only the best players in Europe here, so it's great to be
here and to play against them.
"This is totally different, I don't know how many guys from the NBA
are here, so it's a great competition."
Vesely left Partizan Belgrade in the summer of 2011 to join the Washington Wizards in the NBA.
After a promising rookie season, his second year saw his minutes on
the court and all his stats suffering a drop, as he only featured in
"I had a long summer, I worked out in Los Angeles for about two
months, I was in the Summer League and then I joined the national team
at the beginning of August," he said.
"I was trying to work hard, practice every day and improve my basketball skills.
"I tried to forget about last season, that I did not play or whatever
else happened doesn't matter any more.
"I just wanted to stay focused and be prepared to come here and play
my game the same way I did when I was in Europe.
"Now that I am here, I just want to stay focused and play basketball."
The fact that he has turned heads around Europe with his performances
in Celje might provide him with a much-needed confidence boost.
"I hope so, once EuroBasket is over there are only some days until the
NBA training camp starts, there is not much rest," he said.
"But it's a great competition here with all these big players, and I
think it's going to help me in the NBA that I am playing these games
DUNK LIKE IT'S 1999
|Jiri Welsch (pictured) and Lubos Barton were the only remaining members from the last Czech team to experience victory at EuroBasket, prior to last week|
Vesely collected a double-double of 23 points and 14 rebounds last
Thursday, to help the Czechs edge out Poland 69-68.
The young forward and the entire team were conscious that in clinching
that win, they were also adding a new page to Czech history books.
Their last victory at a EuroBasket had come no less than 14 years ago,
when the tournament was still called the European Championship and was
hosted in France.
Lubos Barton and Jiri Welsch, who were the young promising talents on
that side in 1999, are now the national team's veterans - and the
usual targets of affectionate locker-room banter on this youthful side.
"We were talking with them about it afterwards and poking fun at
them," Vesely said with a big smile.
"I don't know, we were saying things like that the last time they
dunked was in '99.
"But it's so great that we still have these guys here, it's so good
for the team.
"They are our experienced players and then we have the young
g eneration with me, Tomas [Satoransky], Ondrej [Balvin], David
[Jelinek] and the rest.
"So I think we have a very good mix of experience and young power."
If Vesely has specific expectations from this group of players and
himself at this EuroBasket, he prefers not to say it out loud.
"We need to stay focused on the next games," he said.
"I just came here to play basketball the best I can and leave
everything I have on the court."
"I want to help the national team, and of course help myself before
the season starts, and I think both sides we are happy that I am