By Jeff Taylor
Of all the big stories to break in Istanbul the past three weeks during the FIBA World Championship, none was more important than the announcement that EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania is to expand to a 24-team field.
The toughest of all the zone competitions is to open its doors to many more national teams, and one of those in Georgia.
A country that has produced some terrific basketball players over the years, Georgia had narrowly missed out on booking a place in qualifying this summer when they won five times in eight games and finished second behind Belgium in Division A, Group C.
The expansion means that for the first time, a national team from Georgia will compete at a European Championship in any sport.
To understand the significance, one need only look at the reaction of Zaza Pachulia, the captain of the national side.
On the day of the announcement, September 5, Pachulia, a center with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks, was getting married to his long-time partner at a church in Georgia and all of his national team friends were in attendance.
During the ceremony, his phone rang and he answered it and was told he would play at the EuroBasket in Lithuania.
Believing it to be a joke, Pachulia had to be convinced that the tournament had indeed been expanded.
"After telling him for a third time that it was true, all I could hear on the phone were amazing sounds in the background," said the secretary general of the Georgian Basketball Federation, Merab Ratishvili, to Basketball World News.
"It wasn't just players and people involved with the team that celebrated, but ordinary people, too.
"You could hear car horns blowing through the night. There were cars being driven with Georgian flags, people crying (for joy) that we are in the European Championship.
"The headlines in Georgia read ‘Thanks to FIBA Europe'."
The announcement was so important for Georgia that Pachulia and his wife did something else.
"The next morning," Ratishvili said, "Zaza and his wife went to the airport and flew to Istanbul to personally thank (FIBA Europe Secretary General) Nar Zanolin.
"They also thanked (FIBA Europe President) Olafur Rafnsson."
Nearly two weeks on from the announcement on expansion, one thing is clear.
The world knows that countries like Spain, Russia, Greece, Lithuania, Serbia and many other national sides that seem to always make it to European Championships can play basketball at the highest level.
The world is about to discover that Georgia can, too.
"We're very happy," Ratishvili said.
"It's the first time in the history of Georgia that any team will play at a European Championship. You can understand what this means, what happiness that has brought to the players, the fans and everyone in Georgia.
"We're not going just to show up. We realize very well we cannot win the European Championship, but we go to win some games and to do our best.
"A lot depends on the system of the competition and once FIBA Europe announces that, we'll make our aims.
"We're definitely not going just to show up."