|13 July 2010|
The Belarus men's team jumped into the nation's basketball spotlight by hosting a four nations tournament in Minsk over the weekend and winning two of three games, including an overtime triumph against Israel.
In EuroBasket Division B, Belarus are getting ready for games against Sweden, Albania, Azerbaijan and Romania.
One of the key men in the Belarus team that went 7-1 in their last Division B campaign but lost to Georgia in the Promotion Round is 31-year-old Pavel Ulyanko, a 2.04m forward.
In his team's crunch games against the Georgians last summer, Ulyanko had 18 points in the first contest and 14 in the next.
He was lethal from long range, making a combined seven of 10 (70%) shots.
Ulyanko, who this season played in Ukraine first with Pulsar Rivne and then with Hoverla Ivano-Frankivsk, believes the clashes against Division A sides Israel, Bulgaria and Ukraine were vital for Belarus.
"Very positive," he said.
"We played against some really good teams from Division A - the place where we've been trying to advance to for so long now."
The team's only setback came against Bulgaria, who won 76-64.
"We were leading against Bulgaria for most part of the game, but in the end we felt the lack of size, plus they turned out to be better physically ready," he said.
"The (80-71) overtime win against Israel gave us a boost of confidence though.
"We knew it was going to be a tough and physical game.
"Israel, like us, don't have a true dominant center and that allowed us to use our big men better and gave us an advantage.
"This was also our first game of the tournament - we were still fresh and managed to endure the contest as well as the extra session.
"But I have to say we also got a little lucky."
Ulyanko hadn't been with the national team that long before playing in the friendly games.
"I joined the national team three days prior to the start of this tournament," he said.
"I had several practices with the team and started playing here.
"It was pretty hard, still feeling out of shape, so I had to try to use my experience to compensate and show some good basketball."
Ulyanko is finding his feet now after a productive season.
In 16 games with Pulsar Rivne, he averaged 15.1 points 4.9 rebounds, while in 23 appearances with Hoverla Ivano-Frankivsk his numbers dropped to 9.7 points and 3.7 boards.
He was very familiar with the Ukraine national team players since that is where he plays professionally.
Belarus won that game, 74-69.
"They are a pretty good team," Ulyanko said, "but this was not their ultimate line-up they brought here.
"Still, they had three close losses, fought hard and demonstrated decent basketball."
Ulyanko knows that every minute of every practice and game is important for Belarus as they look to go into the game against Sweden in top form.
"We still have one month to work and improve before we start our official games," he said.
Next for Belarus is a tournament in Tbilisi from July 23-25 where they will face the Georgians, Ukrainians and Romanians.