A special mission of Polish basketball players. The words that it’s bad sound funny

– The head is empty, what have they done? It’s unbelievable. We don’t believe it. The players have eggs like watermelons, hearts like the moon – said coach Igor Milicić, overjoyed, moved and excited after the game. In a hot chaotic recap after beating Slovenia by 90:87, he captured the emotions of all the fans as he summed up a whole series of thoughts in their heads. What have they done? They kicked the defender of the title away with Luka Doncic in the squad. Yes, it’s unbelievable and hard to believe, because before the game we just dreamed that Slovenia wouldn’t beat us like a year ago in the qualifying tournament for the Olympics, when it was 77: 112. Yes, his basketball players are tough guys with great faith, a group that is hard to break.

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Lewandowski and Salihamidzic under the wardrobe. Unique photos

What they did – we already know. How they did it – we saw it on the field. But why did they succeed? Here the answer is complex.

A year with potholes. But the Poles kept rising

We have sent a team to this tournament that has had a difficult, even very difficult year. October – Change of coach, Mike Taylor is replaced by Igor Milicić, who announces the rejuvenation of the staff. November – A radically renewed team with no veterans loses the first two games of the World Cup qualifiers. February – with Michał Sokołowski coming back from injury, we struggle for one win with Estonia, but lose in the rematch. June – after resigning from the revolution, Milicić recruits AJ Slaughter for the team, Mateusz Ponitka returns after a break of a few months from basketball, we beat Israel after extra time, we fight against Germany until the end. But we lose and drop out in the battle for the world championship.

And in desperation and even anger, when we learned that after eighth place at the World Cup in 2019 we will now miss out on the next event, we missed the fact that Milicić is building a team from month to month. That the band is playing better and better, that it is not the same team as in November. That the Polish national team will increasingly resemble that of the major world championships in China.

Poland shocked Europe. Cinderella drove into the salons with a bang

Then comes August and the first moment when, instead of a few days, the Milicic team gets the chance to really work. The training camp is used to work together, improve tactics and build faith. We already notice it in sparring matches, because although we start with defeats, we play better from match to match, we start to win. We started the preliminaries for the next EuroBasket with a slight defeat to star-studded Croatia and it was also a match signal. We defend very well and not only thanks to the specialist Michał Sokołowski, we have a great leader in the person of Mateusz Ponitka, AJ Slaughter, who is coming back from injury, can make important throws, and Aleksander Balcerowski is well under the basket.

We don’t have NBA players, but we have great leaders

At the same time, however, we still thought we were going to EuroBasket just to leave the group. The team turned out to be a mystery, just before the championship I mentioned in the Sport.pl Live program that the Polish team hadn’t been that bad in terms of results for years. That was true then – we had just started qualifying for the next championships, so we were playing at the lowest level in years. Today these words sound funny, because the promotion to the semifinals of EuroBasket is the best result in half a century.

It was achieved by a team that has no player with NBA experience. Czechs, Israelis, Ukrainians, not to mention Slovenians have them – but we beat them, they are already home. The semi-finals were achieved by the team, which currently does not have a basketball player with a contract in the Euroleague, although it is difficult to imagine that the excellent Ponitka, after completing his three-month contract with the Italian Pallacanestro Reggiana , would not return to the level at which he played in recent years. It was achieved by the least experienced team of those we sent to the biggest events recently. How?

Broken Luka Donici after the match with PolandLuka Doncis has a message for Poland. Wow

The leaders were in good shape and we have experienced leaders. Ponitka, Sokołowski and Slaughter have played together in several major tournaments and now they are playing the best they can, probably in their life form. Ponitka – 15.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6.9 assists. The impressive triple-double with Slovenia – 26 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists – will go down in EuroBasket history. Sokołowski – 12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, best in the team – 40%. efficiency in three and all this with an average of 30 minutes on the field. “Sokół” defends, “Sokół” works hard and “Sokół” takes the burden in a difficult moment.

Slaughter? 14.3 points and 3.1 assists, but above all a stone face and cold-blooded in the most important moments. We lost with Slovenia in the fourth quarter with 70:74, and then “Antek” scored six points in a row. Yes, our leaders are great.

“Dominator”, drawing conclusions and strength in the ends

The expression “hit with the shape” is a bad word – this shape is no accident, it was developed by the players and the whole team, under the leadership of Dominik Narojczyk. “Dominator”, one of the best trainers for physical preparation in Poland, once tried to play football in his hometown Kozienice, he laughed at being such a little Gennaro Gattuso, and now – as he says about himself – he is someone between a butcher and a psychologist. He can perfectly prepare the team for the tournament effort and we can see the effects of this work. No injuries, inexhaustible power, winning tips.

Exactly, those tips. At the start of Milicic’s term we could even play 30, 35 or even 39 minutes matches, but we lost in decisive moves. From this the team also drew conclusions – both the coach and the players. Each of the winning matches – the Czech Republic, Israel and the Netherlands in Prague and Ukraine and Slovenia in Berlin – was an uphill battle until the last minutes. Either you had to endure the pressure of the rival or you had to chase and win. And the Poles won most of these fourth quarters by sending the ball to Ponitka, Slaughter, Sokołowski, who were supported by second-tier players.

Poland - Slovenia, Eurobasket, Mateusz PonitkaPonitka has gone down in history. And finally he said thank you haters drive me on

Second, but very important. What Milicic has also succeeded in is the optimal division of roles and matching characters. In the Polish national team we have no NBA players, but we have a puzzle where everything is – an energy leader who can scream (Ponitka), a leader who is a silent killer (Slaughter). Experienced waltz who likes physical play (Sokołowski), experienced smarter who helps with wisdom and creates the atmosphere (Aaron Cel). We have a young talented player with prospects to play in the Euroleague and even the NBA (Aleksander Balcerowski), we have a group of players who are comfortable in the role of substitute and each of them positively surprised in this tournament , gave an important boost (Michał Michalak, Jakub Garbacz, Jarosław Zyskowski). Aleksander Dziewa, Łukasz Kolenda, Jakub Schenk and Dominik Olejniczak can also help – if not on the pitch, then with excitement on the bench. It’s also important.

The basketball team is a team with a special mission

And we also have a synergy effect, because the Polish national team is showing something more than just the sum of individual players’ skills at the moment. It’s especially visible on defense, where the key word is “help” – taking over the rivals behind the covers, moving depending on where the ball is, quick rotation and the ability to find yourself in any situation. In defense you have to slide in, but you have to slide in wisely and into the system – Milicić can be proud of how his team works in these elements. Also because he has reorganized the defense of the team in recent months. He rejected what didn’t work, introduced new elements.

You can feel the teamwork and support of everyone and let Balcerowski’s nice words after the match with Slovenia be a confirmation. The 22-year-old center long thanked Ponitka in an interview with TVP Sport, speaking of the captain’s and his older friend’s merits in rebuilding and playing the best basketball of his career so far.

In the end, perhaps most importantly – the Polish national team is a team with a special mission. Her basketball players feel that no one believed in them, Ponitka spoke openly about it, Milicić calls it. After big wins, they both refer to internet haters, after wins with Slovenia, Milicić said his team wants to unite the basketball environment, which is indeed divided, with much disagreement. And it seems that this mission, this willingness to prove itself, also drives this team.

– Gentlemen, let’s enjoy. And let’s go for gold! Captain Ponitka called out to his friends immediately after the match. In the semi-final on Friday, the Polish team will face France and will no longer be a favourite. But if they have come this far despite all the circumstances, then let them continue. Where do they want.

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