Knocked Out: On Recent Defeat of Croatian Clubs

croatian basketball national team

This article will be about the recent downfall of Croatian Basketball. This year, all of the three European teams that are competing in European cups, finished their respective groups at the last place and say an early goodbye to the European adventure.

Moreover, the national team got an abysmal result at Poland this summer with only two wins (against Finland and newly promoted Montenegro). Fortunately, there is a promising generation coming and Croatia need to take that opportunity.

Let me begin from 2010 where Croatians played in front us at Abdi Ipekçi, Istanbul. It was obvious that they will advance from the group that includes Tunisia and Iran – and I must underline that they played basketball – and Croatia did it the worst way that they can. I was quite surprised when Slovenians managed to beat them.

Moreover, the way that they lost the matches were embarrassing excluding the USA game. They were just letting it go. However, they gave an honorable final fight against Serbia despite failing to reach quarters and may be that made coach Josip Vrankovic to keep his seat.

During the unimpressive group stage, I asked the Croatian media reporters about the current form, expectations and current state of the game in the country. Believe me, they were even more desperate and pessimistic than me, claiming that football have outclassed the popularity of basketball which were at peak in the 90s.

Football, which brings more money it seems, have aggregated its dominance for the once Olympic finalists.

Now , after the completion of Euroleague Regular Season, KK Zagreb, first time Euroleaguers was winless after the first 6 games and already said goodbye to the campaign. Thanks to the relatively weak teams of the group as Zalgris and Brose Baskets Bamberg they got some wins. They have promising youngsters such as 1995 born Mario Hezonja and 91 born Toni Prostran but unfortunately Prostran got injured and did not play a single match this season.

Dario Saric was too young to shine but Robert Rikic, a good center with a successful spell at youth championships from 1990 generation stayed unused despite last years’ performances at Dubrava; Josh Heyvelt , Mario Kasun or Sean May were preferred instead as a replacement for Luka Zoric. They followed an inconsistent scheme about the choice of the coaches. Denis Bajramovic was replaced by his assistant Mladen Erjavec and then, Ivo Buric led the team into Euroleague.

Now, the assistant of Buric, Vladimir Androic got control. 3 changes in nearly a year and we are just in the middle of the season.

If we come to Eurocup, what to say about Cibona Zagreb? What happened to them? Last year, they were even unable to train because the electricity of their entrainment hall was down. We read that nobody gets a payment from the club for a long time and they completely changed the names in the management.

May be that tells a lot on their embarrassing elimination with 0 wins. However, these are not enough justify the recent winless Eurocup campaign. The team once make European giants make rivals tremble with players like Drazen Petrovic, Danko Cvjeticanin or Franjo Arapovic now saying goodbye to Euro competition before Christmas. So let’s introduce a little timeline on the recent coach changed again.

They have started last season with Zdravko Radulovic and after the bad results at Euroleague Drazen Anzulovic returned. Just after two second stage of the Croatian league have started, he, was also sacked especially after the losses against Zadar and Borik. After then, Danijel Lutz was promoted as head coach for a while and Josip Vrankovic returned.

After the bad summer with Croatia NT, Cibona decided to continue with Vrankovic and in the beginning stages of the season Cibona parted ways with. Now, Danijel Lutz returned. A vicious circle. After all a question remains; without Brian Chase, Demonte Harper of Antwan Barbour the team would be worse than that or that will not change much. Then why would the youngsters like Vragonavic, Marcincevic or even Stipe Krstanovic are not given much more chances?

There is less to say about Cedevita Zagreb, the surprise package of the last season. Under the helm of Aleksander Petrovic, they have managed to come last 4 dodging through bigger favourites. This time, they have managed only 1 win; an that was against the debutants Bayern Munich at home.

It would not be fair to criticize their performances in a such a group that has Spartak St. Petersburg and Benetton, however that does not hide the relative inconsistent period that the club is passing through. They are the newcomers and have a lot to learn and most probably, does not have a big budget to spend but elimination with only one win in hand is bad. Now, would be different if they had continued with the Eurocup coach of the year, Aleksandar Petrovic?

Of course, this process have started long before actually. KK Split now, once where legendary Dino Radja was the president to create a comeback, is nearly non existent at European competition; disillusioned after the elimination from the ULEB Cup at 2003-2004 after claiming the national title which was the last for a city outside from Zagreb, apart from Zadar.

That’s bad because they are the only team that had won the number 1 club competition successively after the 60’s and ASK Riga. Now they have a good domestic league position but only the second stage of the league where the Europeanly eliminated teams continue will tell how far they can go. At 2008-2009 they played semi finals domestically an that is all.

kresimir cosic monument

Zadar of course has a heart breaking situation also. Once they achieved last 8 at Eurocup with players like Damir Rancic or Rok Stipcevic with the great coach Zmago Sagadin. After all those glorious years Zadar is out of Europe since a while and we don’t know when will they be back. I remember reading an article about the financial situation of Zadar.

The head of municipality, Zvonimir Vrancic announced that they no longer have enough resources to support the team and the future is in danger. It’s a pity because that team was once the team that Kresimir Cosic have played.

Considering the national set up, the relative loss of power of the domestic league is shown at the big tournaments. To justify the claim, one can show that only Cibona played finals at Adriatic League two seasons successively in the last 5 years. Their best result in seniors was at 2009 Eurobasket where Slovenia knocked them out.

As we have mentioned, things did not look good for Croatia this summer, after the adventure in Istanbul, of course the injuries of Marko Banic, Kresimir Loncar, Roko-Leni Ukic or Marko Tomas made things difficult but I remember last year that the target of the real target Croatian team was Eurobasket 2011. That has not been achieved obviously, moreover the U20 team felt into division B also this summer.

I will not pass unmarked the fact that after the implementation of Bosman rule, the smaller size markets in Europe, like Croatia have difficulties to play with strong teams. There were 3 players, Damjan Rudez, Dontaye Draper and Krunoslav Simon on the Eurobasket 2011 Croatia team. The incentive to train young players has declined because they are simply picked up by a bigger team in other parts of Europe.

Moreover, the sports organization of ex-Yugoslavia was of course state powered and the relevant countries had a structural change during the market centered economy. Now they are left with an important basketball culture and the market. Culture does not bring money and the market is not that deeply interested with the sport, they just want glory and advertisement.

Short term investment at basketball is very easy then supporting a football team however, longer term vision is too costly for basketball if we consider the investments on younger age groups. That’s how legends like Cibona, Split or Zadar became very ordinary European clubs and Cedevita & KK Zagreb closed the gap.

In the last paragraph, I must add that a promising generation is coming. U16 team, meaning the players of 94-96 born generations have won the European Championships successively. 2011 U19 World Championship exposed players like Boris Barac, the brother of Stanko and of course Dario Saric.

Those were the leaders at Latvia, where Toni Katic and Mario Hezonja showed their skills. Unfortunately Katic had an ACL injury recently at Split but this generation can be the remedy for the current situation, at least for the national set up.