[Ed. Note: Czech correspondent Lukas Kuba (@Luke_Mellow) brings an update on 2012 Wizards second round draft pick Tomas Satoransky.]
“Wizard teammates remembered my windmill because, as they say, white men can’t jump.”
Guess who made that quote? The guy who listens to Lil’ Wayne before games… you guessed right, it was Saty—Tomas Satoransky’s nickname back home in the Czech Republic. That quote’s from one the interviews he gave to Czech press after he returned from the United States and Summer League play in Las Vegas.
Satoransky was honest about the area he needs to improve most to take the next step: ”With regard to my strength, I’m not ready for the NBA, I gotta get stronger. Overall, summer league was a good experience and coach [Randy] Wittman could get to know me, which is important to the future.”
And on learning under Wizards summer league coach Sam Cassell: ”He was our summer league coach. Thereby it was even harder for me, because he’s a legendary point guard. Sometimes it was difficult to call a play, because he already called that play before, so I was a bit confused. But otherwise, another great experience. He was giving me very useful advices. Was he tough on me? Well, I think he was a bit tougher [on me than others]. I’m a point guard so I won’t get a lot of praise from him. On the other hand, he understands, that I’m a 6-foot-7 guard and in some things he wasn’t nearly as tough on me as he could. Mostly, he was pointing out various details to me. For example, to be aggressive enough and to keep doing it.”
It’s already known that Tomas won’t play for the Wizards next season; he recently signed a two-year deal with an opt-out after the first season with his old Spanish team, CB Seville. Still, he’s an exciting young prospect who could help the Wizards someday — the goal is 2013-14, he says.
The idea of Satoransky as something of a basketball savior might be inconceivable or even downright laughable for fans in the U.S., but in his native Czech Republic he’s perceived as exactly that. With the Czech National Team missing Jan Vesely from their line-up, the 20-year-old Satoransky must take the role of a leader, best player and X-factor all in one in order for Czechs to qualify for the EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia. Yes, the Czechs have their veteran, battle-tested leaders in Lubos Barton and Jiri Welsch, but Tomas (along with a 21-year-old long-range shooter David Jelinek who played for the Mavs in the 2012 NBA Summer League) has to step up, take over and lead his team to victories in the EuroBasket Qualification games running during August and September.
I didn’t get a chance to see any of the Czech team’s “friendlies” (actually, two tournaments: one in Estonia and the second in front of their rabid fans in the Czech town of Chomutov), but they won all of their six games. Looking at Satoransky’s stats (three games), it did show he was the best player overall in every one of those games he played. His national team coach raved about him, loving his confidence and him being matured mentally. It’s a safe bet a coach likes you when he utters quotes like this: “Tomas took the playbook to his hotel room and learned everything in just two days. It’s a joy to coach such a great player and person.”
The Czechs are in the EuroBasket qualifier Group F with Italy, Turkey, Belarus and Portugal. (Competition format: six groups, the first two teams from each group and the four best third-place teams will qualify for the EuroBasket 2013.) Last Wednesday, the Czech team traveled to Belarus, home of “Europe’s last dictator,” Alexander Lukashenko, to play the Belarusians. I watched this game on Czech TV and liked what I saw, which was a 73-65 Czech win. They were clearly better than Belarus, whose best player was a former Radford University Highlander Art Parakhouski. The Czechs showed a solid team defense, sparked by Saty’s quick hands on the perimeter. On offense their calling card is the fastbreak, and they more or less struggle when shooting from distance (more on that later). Satoransky was aggressive in driving to the basket, picking up assists or scoring. Basically, he has to be the floor general, scorer, and finisher on the break. (Did I say they miss Vesely?) Satoransky recorded 12 points, nine assists AND zero turnovers. He also hit a dagger 3-pointer with 33 second left to extend the lead to seven.
Here’s the kicker — and I’m NOT making this up — this game should be dubbed the Torn Sneaker Sole Game. At halftime, the Czech conditioning trainer ran like crazy for glue to a Belarusian store in order to repair Satoransky’s bright green Nike sneaker (the sole detached from the shoe itself). Heck, when your conditioning coach is an MVP candidate in a game, the team‘s chemistry has to be very strong.
With an important win in the bag, on Saturday the Czech Republic faced the favorites of Group F on their home court in Chomutov—the Italians. (Here’s the Czech National Team intro from the game.) Unfortunately, riding a seven-game winning streak, the Czechs couldn’t buy a basket from the outside and lost the defensive showdown, 53-63. Satoransky finished the game with just four points on an awful 1-for-12 shooting in 37 minutes; he looked very exhausted at the end. It’s worth mentioning the match also featured Danilo Gallinari of the Denver Nuggets (13 points, seven rebounds), who, although not appearing to be in the greatest game shape, was the best player on the floor. The Italians kept the hosts at bay throughout a low-scoring third quarter, and the Czech Republic never got closer than six points in the final period. The Czechs “totally failed on offense” (quote by Czech starting forward Lubos Barton, former Valparaiso Crusader), although it’s worth mentioning that they were missing Jiri Welsch (groin).
To his credit, Satoransky fought hard all game (seven rebounds, five assists, two steals, only one turnover) and was his team’s vocal leader throughout the contest. After the loss, Saty was really pissed off, saying, “Italians haven’t played this poorly for a long time and we lost.”
Maybe a silver lining? Half of Saty’s four points came from this nasty dunk…
Next, the Czech team was off to Portugal, after they got stuck at the Prague airport for a few hours. I don’t know why I’m mentioning it here, but every player got 300 Czech “korunas” (or about $15 U.S. dollars) per diem, and they basically ate the entire buffet at an airport restaurant. On Tuesday night it was game time, and it looked like the extra calories helped They started like the proverbial steam train, winning the first quarter by 14 points. Satoransky even had seven boards after the first quarter, which has to be a personal record. This seemed like an easy win for the visitors, but the things would get tougher. The Portuguese players hit some threes in the second half and got some much needed offensive boards, making the game dangerously close. A 3-pointer cut the Czech lead to 70-67 with 17 seconds left, but their defense came up big, and they managed to hold off the Portuguese for the 74-67 victory.
A little celebratory dancing ensued, with Satoransky showing off some dance moves to his teammates. Saty played a good, all-around game, finishing with six points (2-for-8 FGs), 10 rebounds, and nine dimes (but five turnovers). It’s safe to say he would have had a triple-double if he hadn’t missed so many layups. After three games, Satoransky is averaging 7.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 7.7 assists in 33 minutes per contest — pretty good numbers for a 20-year-old point guard.
The next game for the Czechs will take place back home in Chomutov on Monday the 27th against Turkey. They have to be ready to “fight like a lion” (the Czech Republic’s battle cry). This game will shape up as a battle for the all important second place in Group F; Italy is 3-0, the Czechs are 2-1, and Turkey is 1-1 (they will play Portugal, 0-2, on Friday).
Until then, Tomas got some free days to go out and have a coffee with one Jan Vesely (via Jan’s Twitter account).
[Tomas on the bus.]