[Ed. Note: Lukas Kuba (@Luke_Mellow) is TAI's foreign bureau correspondent on all things Czech Republic/Jan Vesely/Tomas Satoransky-related. —Kyle W.]
After this previous Truth About It.net post about Wizards 2012 draft pick Tomas Satoransky playing for the Czech national team in an attempt to qualify for EuroBasket 2013 got the ultimate praise from Wizards owner Ted Leonsis (Big thanks, Ted!), I couldn’t resist writing another. Of course, you can’t find it anywhere else but here at TAI…
Our main man Kyle Weidie updated you on the Czech Republic’s game fourth of the EuroBasket qualification, where they easily defeated Turkey, 82-64. I can add that the Czechs played great in this game, getting contributions from up and down the roster. Hell, when you have someone named Jakub Kudlacek hitting all his shots (14 points in 16 minutes), there’s almost no way your team can be beat. Also, this game was sort of a coming out party for 19-year-old Czech center Ondrej Balvin, who defended Turkey’s Semih Erden in the low post. The 7-foot-1 kid is the best Czech big man prospect since George Zidek, and he has NBA potential (I think). It was really a fun game to watch, and the hometown Czech fans really got into it, even doing the wave (as you can watch here).
Two days later, the Czech team showed how tight their collective bond is. First, in the streets of Chomutov, they tomato-ambushed their assistant coach, Mike Taylor (who is an assistant coach with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League); Taylor was celebrating his birthday. They then capped it off at a local ice hockey game by pranking Taylor with whipped cream in the face. Fun times.
By the way, Tomas is a hell of a pre-game dunker. As a tribute to his dunking skills, I made this short, 30-second video:
After the win over Turkey, the Czech Republic was 3-1 in Group F and faced Belarus at home. Belarus is no pushover, and this specific game would turn out to be the toughest of the first five contests for the Czechs. As if on cue (or off cue), Satoransky really struggled that night and the Czech team started off poorly — Belarus led by 11 points early, and fans might have thought that an upset was brewing. The Belarussians played like pesky insects flying all over the Czech lion’s head, but the Czechs demonstrated their collective grit by fighting through a bad stretch of the game, led by their old vets, captain Petr Benda and Lubos Barton. Barton hit couple of huge 3s and was the man of the match (23 points). Satoransky and his mates played better in the second half, and Tomas himself came through in crunch time, where he scored five consecutive points to put Czechs ahead 79-70. The final result was a 79-72 win for the Czechs over Belarus. Saty finished the game with 11 points (5-for-10 FGs), three rebounds, two assists, and five turnovers.
For game six, they headed to Trieste, Italy for a clash with the Italians. The Czechs had a shot at finishing first in Group F if they won this game, so they were pumped up to avenge the Game 2 loss to Italy in Chomutov. But they had little chance facing an all-around solid team performance from Italy. The home team was on top of their Group F rivals right from the tip-off — the Czechs were down by 16 after the first half. They shot horribly, couldn’t find a rhythm offensively, and had lots of turnovers (17). The final score of 56-68 may indicate that it was a relatively close game, but it wasn’t. Thus, Italy celebrated the win, securing their place at EuroBasket 2013, and the Czech Republic had to regroup from the tough loss with a must-win versus Portugal back home in Chomutov. Against Italy, Satoransky scored seven points (3-for-9 FGs) to go with one rebound, two assists, three steals, and two turnovers. I wasn’t able to watch the game, but judging by Saty’s quotes in the Czech media afterward, he was pretty mad at himself.
The day before the Portugal game, Lubos Barton penned a great blog post for Basketmag.cz about his Czech teammates — lots of golden nuggets and revelations. Immediately, I began to wonder what he’d had to say about Jan Vesely… (Alas, Barton later indicated that he does not know Vesely very well.)
But remember Jiri Welsch? (He played for the Warriors, Celtics, Cavaliers, and Bucks.) Barton wrote that his Czech teammates call Jiri “Brandon Walsh,” because of their similar surnames and because Welsch “tries to conduct himself like a model citizen and is liked by all.” [Ed. Note: Huge fans of 90201 they must be in the Czech Republic ... just like 90s me. —Kyle W.]
About Satoransky, Barton writes that he “is a physically impressive athlete; has got great courage and resolve; if he uses his energy the right way, he can be an excellent player; loves beating his older teammates in one-on-one games to show them who’s the boss in the locker room; has got considerable imitation skills and is a very funny guy; talks a LOT, every minute; loves to star in a lead, or at least to be in a supportive role … if not, gets immediately pissed off.”
More recently, via basket.idnes.cz, Barton added that Satoransky “changes his boxer briefs every quarter — that’s four times during a game!” Great stuff, indeed.
(By the way, if you’re a fan of Tomas, follow him @satoransky, he just started tweeting recently.)
Satoransky put up a good effort overall against Portugal, playing like a true floor general, although his numbers (seven points (2-for-7 FGs), three rebounds, four assists, and three steals) weren’t that impressive. He looked a bit tired late, and he definitely has to work on his outside shot more — catch-and-shoot, spot-up shooting — if he really wants to play in the NBA someday. His close friend David Jelinek hit 5-of-7 shots from long range en route to a game-high 25 points for the Czech Republic, who routed Portugal, 90-71, to push their record to 5-2.
The Czechs started off slowly, again, but in the second quarter they outscored their opponents, 32-12. From that point, it was basically a blowout. The win alone didn’t clinch them a spot in EuroBasket 2013, that would come later that evening — the Czech team qualified because of the results of other games that night; mathematically, they couldn’t finish worst than amongst the four best third-place teams from group play. So at the final buzzer, there was somewhat tempered joy. But, a little celebration, thanks to their fantastic fans, did happen. For basketball in the Czech Republic, it is a huge deal to qualify for the EuroBasket — this will only be the third time they have qualified in 11 EuroBasket tournaments since they became the Czech Republic in 1993 (they finished 12th in 1999 and 13th in 2007). The elated/excited looks on the faces of the Czech players said it all.
What was also noted in that Barton’s online piece is that Satoransky is a really competitive guy who likes to challenge teammates into doing some crazy/silly things. This happened at the hotel after the EuroBasket-clinching win: at 1:30 am, Saty challenged the 32-year-old Welsch to become a Spiderman. Here’s the result:
Let’s just say if this happened in the NBA, it would have won an episode of “Shaqtin’ A Fool.”
Saty’s team was in excellent shape to capture second place in Group F behind Italy, unless they lost their last game against Turkey in Istanbul by 18 points or more. But they qualified already; does second or third place in group play matter? Yep, it does. Both record and place in the standings count toward the overall seeding for the EuroBasket Draw on November 18. In Istanbul, they were welcomed by the Turkish capital’s infamous heavy traffic — from their hotel, it took two and a half hours to get to the brand new, state-of-the-art Ülker Sports Arena (technically located on the Asian side of the country) for practice.
The actual game started off horribly for the Czechs. Satoransky picked up two fouls in the first three minutes and other key Czech players got into foul trouble as well (boy, the refs were horrible). The whole team played tentatively and seemingly lost its confidence on the way to the arena. Playing against the atrocious Czech defense, Turkey stormed into a big lead that stretched to 44-24 inside the final minute of the first half; the Turks led by as many as 29 points in the second half. The Czech Republic failed in almost every valuable statistical category: turnovers (18), giving up points on second chances, and free throws. It was the worst game they played all summer. They simply didn’t come together as a team, and although they mounted a late mini-comeback that saw them trail 75-55 with 3:16 to go (Satoransky stepped up and scored eight points) with several make-able chances to cut the deficit to 18 or less, it just wasn’t their day. Saty led his team in scoring (15 points), but it wasn’t enough. Turkey won, 81-58, and the 23-point margin gave them the tie-breaker and a second place Group F finish after Italy, leaving the third place to the Czech Republic.
Of course, to lose the last game in such fashion was embarrassing for the Czechs, but in the big picture, they fulfilled the goal: EuroBasket 2013 qualification. (They really missed Jan Vesely in the frontcourt, I must say.) The 20-year-old Satoransky was their most valuable player, putting up some promising performances along the way. His averages: 30.3 minutes, 9.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, .354 from the field, and .278 from 3-point land. Moreover, he’s a player eager to learn from his mistakes, he has improved his consistency, and, in my opinion, has got the right mindset and skills to be considered a solid rotation player in an NBA backcourt down the line.
Tomas Satoransky told sport.ihned.cz that he considers qualifiying for the EuroBasket 2013 the greatest accomplishment of his career:
“As a 20-year-old, to be a key part of the team that did qualify for the EuroBasket is the most I have accomplished in my career. I don’t even want to think about missing the EuroBasket 2013. Now, I don’t know what all will happen in a year, but I’ll do everything to play there. I’m sure Honza [Jan Vesely] was sorry that he couldn’t play with us, in particular when he could see how much work we managed to do and that we advanced [to the EuroBasket]. But at least he can be with us next year.”
Saty also said that he didn’t want to be drawn into the same group as Spain at EuroBasket:
“It’s the best European team and after the U.S.A. they’re the second best in the world. It’d be prestigious, but I probably wouldn’t want to play them.”
On how he was received upon his arrival by Czech teammates:
“When I showed up, I kind of woke up the whole team. Guys began to be more self-confident and avowed. What I’m most proud of is that I managed to challenge Jiri Welsch into various stakes. He’s known as one of those composed guys, but when he saw what I was doing, he wanted to master it, too. There’s a healthy rivalry between us two. It was terrific to be on the team with such a great bunch of guys.”
EuroBasket 2013 will be held in Slovenia from September 4 through the 22nd next year. This is a Wizards blog, so one must wonder, will both Czech Wizards, Satoransky and Jan Vesely, really make themselves available to their national team at that time?
Count on both of them saying yes.