By Yarone Arbel
|Turkey celebrated their victory over Spain as if they'd won a medal - no wonder, since going into the last day of the first round they were facing early elimination. But they are amongst the many powerhouses still at risk of not making the last eight|
The EuroBasket is a great show of basketball that is decided in a matter of 19 days.
In the span of those 19 days there are 24 teams, in the new edition, whose future is decided according to their EuroBasket performance.
Teams rise and fall.
Coaches lose their jobs or become heroes.
Players face restless, vicious media or enjoy the glory of fame.
For both coaches and players a good EuroBasket can mean also a future lucrative deal with a club.
Yet a few months before EuroBasket tip off there's one more day that has no less than a huge influence on all the mentioned outcomes - draw day.
Often people focus their attention at the results of the Preliminary Round draw.
A few months ago there was -allegedly- even a coach that waited for draw day to pick which of the two national teams who wanted him he'd go with, and obviously chose the one with which he had better chances to go through to the next round.
But actually the more interesting thing to check when the draw is set is the "mini-draw" that decides which group pairs with others for the Second Round.
EuroBasket 2011 draw day not only set groups A and B as the more quality and intriguing ones, while groups C and D the ones with less glamour.
It also set in advance what kind of battles we will have towards the quarter-finals.
The Second Round in Lithuania consists of two totally different groups and in each there's totally different pressure and intensity.
Groups A and B merged into Group E and in there you can find Spain, Turkey, Lithuania, France, Germany and Serbia.
All of these six teams have great legacy, even greater than great, in the last ten years.
It's odd, but the least crowned teams among these six are powerhouses as France and Turkey.
Germany played for the crown in 2005, reached the Semi-Finals in 2001 and also won bronze in the 2002 World Championship.
Lithuania won the title in 2003, bronze in 2007, another bronze just last year in the 2010 World Championship and two appearances in the Semi-Finals of the last two Olympics.
Spain are the title holder, reached the Semi-Finals in all the last four EuroBaskets, won the World crown in 2006 and reached the title of the Olympics gold medal in 2008.
Serbia have their own great legacy of further times but still made the title game in EuroBasket 2009, reached the Semi-Finals in the World games last year and as a part of Yugoslavia won the European and World titles in 2001 and 2002.
Turkey was the runner-up in EuroBasket 2001 and obviously last year in the World Championship, yet in both times hosted the event and may still need to prove they can go far outside of Istanbul, as they never reached the Semi-Finals in other events.
France won bronze in EuroBasket 2005 and lost the bronze medal game two years before that, while with a small stretch one can add also an Olympic finals in 2000.
|The moment Arvydas Sabonis pulled out the first ball with a team name on it, at the EuroBasket draw back in winter, he ws inadvertently influencing the future of 288 players and 24 coaches |
These six teams grabbed 11 of the last 15 EuroBasket medals and five of the last six medals won by a European team in the World Championship.
The big news - only four advance, so it's clear two of these power houses will finish this tournament ranked 9-12, which is obviously a huge disaster for any of them.
The intensity of each game in this group, the importance of every possession and every basket, the pressure down the stretch promise the fans three days of heaven.
Then there's Group F that merged the teams from groups C and D.
Make no mistake - it's nothing but boring here.
Group F holds Russia and Greece -two of the last three champs- and Slovenia who were a shot from making the title game two years ago.
While next to them there are three teams that are less familiar with this neighborhood.
F.Y.R. of Macedonia, Georgia and Finland are the teams that complete the list of six on this side.
F.Y.R. of Macedonia play only their third ever EuroBasket and their best ranking ever was the 9-12 round two years ago.
For Georgia this is the first visit ever on the big stage and they have made history with the first tip off, first bounce, first basket, first win and first qualifying to the second round.
Finland, the 23rd team to qualify, are the biggest surprise of this championship so far, and their legacy is a story of its own.
They last played at the EuroBasket in 1995, when they finished 14th, but the visit before that was back in late 1970's.
Yes, Finland finished twice among the Top 8 but the last time it happened was 1967 and the one before was...1939.
One might say it makes this group less interesting, but if usually underdogs advance to the next stage to face powerhouses and usually fall, this is a different case.
The fact there are three teams in this stage that are rarely part of it, means at least one of them will be in Kaunas for the Final Round.
Now if you thought Group E teams will leave on the floor nails and skins to stay in the run, think how much effort will be left on the court when these three teams will fight for what is probably a once in... a lifetime chance.
These two great scenarios wouldn't have taken place if back then, on draw day, the label of Group B would have been replaced with C.
At first look it's not a big difference maker, but in every EuroBasket, and especially on this one, this mini-draw creates so much colour and mixed feelings and influences the future of so many people.