|Having last participated in Division A at EuroBasket 2007, Lubos Barton and the Czech Republic have made it back to the Final Round |
A long, hard summer has ended for many national team players in Europe.
Some are rejoicing after booking spots in next year's EuroBasket in Slovenia, others are coping with the disappointment of having not made it.
Everyone, it's safe to say, is tired and in need of recharging the batteries before launching new campaigns with club sides all over the continent.
Before you know, all the players will be with their national teams again, getting ready for next year's Final Round.
One conclusion from the Qualification Round for EuroBasket 2013 is that the fans have been able to watch great basketball, from Baku, Azerbaijan, on the Caspian Sea, to Reykjavik, Iceland, in the north Atlantic.
Another conclusion is that no national team in the Qualification Round had a free pass to the EuroBasket.
Serbia, the silver-medal winners in 2009, and 2010 World Championship runners-up Turkey, had to pull out all stops to reach Slovenia.
Basketball games all over were played at a fever pitch.
So what is going to be the big difference in the tournament field for next year as opposed to the one in Lithuania in 2011?
The Czech Republic and Sweden have made it to the party, and both Bulgaria and Portugal have not.
The Czechs and Swedes will be the new kids on the block, although each have been at the big dance before.
The last time Sweden made an appearance in the Final Round was 2003, as hosts of the event.
The Czechs last played at a EuroBasket in 2007, when it was held in Spain.
Bright Future For The Czech Republic
For a while, the Czechs were playing so well in this summer's Qualification Round that it seemed they might have enough firepower to win Group F.
That honour ultimately went to Italy, who won all eight of their games and sent out a loud statement about their determination to become one of the elite teams on the continent again.
The Azzurri went undefeated in a difficult group, sweeping the Czechs, Turkey, Belarus and Portugal, and they did so without NBA players Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli.
The commitment to team basketball, to hard work in practice and games, paid off richly for the Italians who will now travel to Slovenia under coach Simone Pianigiani with their confidence soaring.
Montenegro (10-0), Croatia (8-0) and Germany (8-0) also went unbeaten.
The Czech Republic went into their last game at Turkey on Tuesday looking like a side that would finish second to the Italians in Group F but ultimately finished third behind Turkey after suffering an 81-58 defeat in Istanbul.
The heavy setback did not take the shine off a positive summer for the Czechs, who had beaten the Turks by 18 in the first meeting.
"We were expecting such a hard game," Czech coach Pavel Budinsky said.
"Anyway, we are happy to have qualified for EuroBasket 2013. It was a great success for the Czech Republic."
The Czechs should only improve next year, too.
Jan Vesely, a real star of the Czech game and the 2010 FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year, is in the NBA preparing for his second season with the Washington Wizards.
The 2.11m forward is only 22 and has enormous potential.
He will be in the squad next year in Slovenia.
When considering that the Czechs also have 20-year-old point guard Tomas Satoransky, 22-year-old shooting guard David Jelinek, 2.16m center Ondrej Balvin (20 years old on 20 September) and even more youngsters ready to help out, the future is very bright.
Sweden Return To Big Stage
Sweden have a lot of potential as well.
In Group B, the Swedes finished second but only after claiming four wins in eight games.
They won a goal-differential tie-breaker with Bulgaria and Azerbaijan (both 4-4), and only did that after the Germans did them a favour on Tuesday night.
While Sweden had to win at Luxembourg, which they did, 85-68, the Scandinavian side needed Germany to beat a very talented Azerbaijan team which had been the surprise package of the Qualification Round.
Azerbaijan had won at home against Sweden on Saturday and played extremely well at Germany, thus making for a very uncomfortable night for the Swedes who monitored events in Oldenburg, where the contest was played.
Nearly two minutes into the fourth quarter and Azerbaijan only trailed Germany, 60-58, after their impressive Orhan Haciyeva, a 2.00 m forward who averaged 17.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in the Qualification Round, caught a pass from Charles Davis and made a lay-up.
Haciyeva was one of the standout performers in the competition this summer, but he and Davis weren't able to hold off a Germany side that was coached by Serbian great Svetislav Pesic.
Jan Jagla drilled a three-pointer - one of the team's 13 on the night - and Germany pulled away for an 81-68 victory.
|Jonas Jerebko has been Sweden's top performer in the Qualification Round, averaging 20.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists |
Sweden, who got 22 points from Joakim Kjellbom and 17 from Jonas Jerebko in their win over Luxembourg, scraped their way into the 24-team EuroBasket field.
"It feels incredible right now," Sweden point guard Thomas Massamba said.
"I take my hat off to all the guys on the team, for everyone who has been involved in the squad last year and the year before and those who did not get to be with us now.
"Everyone has helped us. It feels absolutely amazing."
Because Sweden's game began 10 minutes after Germany's, they knew before the final whistle that they were headed to Slovenia next summer.
"Now that we have qualified for EuroBasket 2013, there is no doubt that we are on the upswing," Sweden coach Brad Dean said.
"I am grateful to many for this, the players ... but in particular I want to thank team manager Jonte Karlsson. He has done a tremendous job with a huge commitment."
It's safe to say that everyone involved in Swedish basketball deserves credit.
The youth teams have been competing hard in recent summers and the senior women's team has qualified for their EuroBasket Women in France next year.
Swedish basketball is sky high, and it's going to take a long time for it to come down.
"We've been working for this for three years and there are so many who have been involved," Massamba said.
"I am proud to have been part of it. I'm proud that we kept the team together and played as a team.
"It has been incredibly nice to feel the support from the people around us.
"It's nice to give something back.
"Now we are ready for the EuroBasket, and now we are going to try and take a new step."