FIBA WC Qualifiers Fiasco: What’s going on with star-studded Croatia? / New
“When do we play San Marino?” ; Shame on you!”; “Congratulations, Dino [Radja]great job.” These are several examples of messages that Croatian fans flooded the official Federation channels after another debacle in the international basketball scene.
Despite an 8-point cushion with 2 minutes remaining in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers do-or-die match against Finland, the Croatians lost their attacking gear and handed the crucial victory to their opponents. Lauri Markkanen did the work for the Finns, connecting a game-winning shot from deep.
Croatia finished last in Group C with a 1-5 record and will miss the FIBA Basketball World Cup next year. This latest major event is the fourth in the last decade that Croatia have failed to qualify for. The basketball nation skipped the 2012 and 2020 Olympics and the 2019 World Cup, adding to the latest fiasco.
Following their poor performances in the World Cup qualifiers, Croatia have joined Cyprus, Romania, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and others who will have to participate in the EuroBasket 2025 pre-qualifiers.
At least Croatia has never missed out on the European Championship since its declaration of independence in 1991. But Croatians will have to walk a long and winding road to repeat the trend.
It’s a pretty sloppy result to compete against countries whose existence on the basketball world map is underrated to say the least. How can that be for the nation that managed to dominate in the early 1990s and produce four Hall of Famers and two NBA champions?
There is a saying: “The fish stinks from the head”. When Stojko Vrankovic (President of the Croatian Basketball Federation), Dino Radja (Chairman of the Expert Advisory Board), and Josip Vrankovic (General Secretary) took over the reins of the Croatian Basketball Federation in 2016, they had a lot of support because “let’s give basketball back to the basketball players”, the idea finally materialized.
However, six years have passed and the results are arguably the worst in a 30-year period.
“Is it my fault? Radja asked rhetorically while giving an interview to Index.hr. “We did everything we could. Most of the players had the best possible conditions to prepare, they were in Opatija in a five-star hotel. We had four NBA athletes. Damn they didn’t mix “We only had Zubac and Bogdanovic for three days in training camp. What can you do in three days?”
However, the legendary Aco Petrovic, who coached the Croatian national team three times (1995, 1999-01, 2016-17), has an answer for the culprit. He called the same Dino Radja on Twitter, writing ironic and critical comments.
“I see the consensus is around Radja leaving. I think he should remain the chairman of the expert advisory board and be a real leader on the road during pre-qualifying in Gibraltar, San Marino, Luxembourg, or wherever the draw takes us,” the 63-year-old tweeted with a hint of irony.
“In 6 years, Croatian basketball has collapsed, missed two World Cups, spent 3,000,000 euros for the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Split, forged bad relations with leading clubs, declared war on ABA League, messed up 4 coaches…Look in the mirror, Radja,” Petrovic addressed the Hall of Famer in his other tweet.
As we can see, there is a lot of finger pointing within the Croatian basketball community. The same situation exists in the basketball department of the club, which is another subject to be developed.
“They say we [Federation] are responsible for this situation. Look at Cibona, Zadar and Split. Cibona is constantly in debt, and now we are guilty of what happened”, defended Radja and his colleagues.
AP Credit – Scanpix
From a historical point of view, the last time the Croatian team participated in the EuroLeague was in the 2015-16 season. And even then, Cedevita Zagreb had a mediocre performance at best, with 8 wins and 16 losses.
The last time the Croatian club participated in the EuroCup? Cedevita Zagreb again, in 2018-19. The record was quite similar, with 5 winning efforts and 11 losses.
Even the Basketball Champions League, widely recognized as the strongest third division in European club basketball competition, is without Croats. Last year, KK Split had a chance to earn their place through a qualifying tournament but failed.
There aren’t even any qualifying teams this year. It is breathtaking that BCL has a team from Cyprus, Kosovo, Portugal and Denmark each and absolute zero from the Croatian basketball nation.
The Balkan region has a competitive Adriatic League (ABA). Last season, three Croatian teams took part in the tournament. Unfortunately, attendance was all they did as Cibona (8), Zadar (12) and Split (13) failed to record a winning percentage above 0.500.
The last significant season for Croatian clubs in the ABA dates back to 2013-14. Cibona and Cedevita reached the league final, with Cibona winning the championship.
If this is not sufficient proof of the situation in which the Croatian basketball club finds itself, we can continue.
Cedevita, the most successful, is now based in Ljubljana and represents Slovenia on the European stage. Split and Zadar can barely survive in the Adriatic League and practically live from month to month.
Cibona is collapsing after most of the players terminated their contracts due to unpaid wages. At the moment only Mateo Dreznjak, Kresimir Radovcic and captain Roko Prkacin are available for the new season if the club is saved.
The current management of Cibona is still working to keep the club alive: they are trying to bring in rescue investors and intend to raise several million euros for debt settlement and further operation.
All this leads to another problem. Croatia suffers the most from the various FIBA Qualifiers when it comes to homegrown players. Athletes, who play in Croatian clubs, hit the wall when they face national teams with a high rotation of mid-level athletes. They are not used to intensity, nerves and initiative in difficult situations.
When Bojan Bogdanovic, Mario Hezonja, Ivica Zubac, Ante Zizic or other big names can join the national team, then it’s all about them. They have to create, get into the rim, play post-up basketball, shoot from downtown – pretty much do it all on their own. The supporting cast fades into a shadow.
For example, the mentioned four players have scored 79.7% and 69.6% of the team’s total points respectively in the last two games against Slovenia and Finland.
“Bojan [Bogdanovic] plays one way in Utah and another on the national team. In the NBA, someone else creates opportunities for him, there he should do it himself. It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time to adapt,” Dino Radja told Index.hr.
“That’s our reality. That’s the point of everything: we don’t have EuroLeague-level players. What role do our clubs play in the ABA League? Totally inferior. And so year after year. And then those guys come to the national team where they have to decide something. They lose all year in the ABA League,” the decorated Croatian legend continued.
“For example, Roko Prkacin, ABA League Junior Champion and MVP, plays at Cibona, which has a 2-20 win-loss record over the past six seasons with the top four ABA clubs. What kind of player do you raise? you if you have 25 defeats out of 30 games in a season? And all the main roles are played by foreigners. I’m talking about the whole league, not just our clubs. And then you wonder how we lost against Finland.
Lovro Gnjidic plays in defense two meters from his player. Someone at the club allowed him to do this. He’s been playing like this for two years,” concluded Radja in the case of young Croatian talent.
One thing is clear: Croatia suffers greatly from a lack of quality in the position of playmaker. Roko Leni Ukic was a long-term solution, but since he turned 37, there’s not much left in his tank.
Perhaps it’s time to repeat history and naturalize a foreign player, something Spain did recently with Lorenzo Brown. According to a poll by Index.hr, the country’s support for such a move is compelling, with 62% of respondents answering “yes”.
Nevertheless, Dino Radja, the chairman of the advisory committee of experts, has his firmness.
“It’s weird for me. In my opinion, only a Croat from Croatia, a Croat from Bosnia, a Croat from Germany, someone who has at least one Croatian parent and someone who feels the honor of playing for the national team can compete for our country. After all, is a foreigner a guarantee of success?” Radja told Index.hr.
“For me, buying a foreigner for the national team is like buying a university degree. Is that person then an engineer? Would someone let a doctor who graduated in this way perform surgery To me this is a falsification of history.
My favorite medal during my career is a silver medal in 1992 [Barcelona Olympics]. Sweeter than Seoul’s sweeter than gold in Zagreb [EuroBasket 1989] or Roma [EuroBasket 1991]. Because I won it with my friends: Stojan Vrankovic, Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Arijan Komazec and all the others who were there at the time. It was an irreplaceable emotion. This medal would have been worth less to me if an American had been there.
I will not agree with a foreigner in the national team. I don’t offend anyone. I told everyone in the Federation that if they want a foreigner, feel free to add them, but I’m leaving. I don’t want to come to a national team game and cheer on an American,” Dino Radja concluded in his monologue.
Earlier, two American-born guards, Dontaye Draper and Oliver Lafayette, wore red and white jerseys. The former participated in three EuroBaskets in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
Draper was instrumental in reaching the semi-finals in 2013 as it was Croatia’s first such long run in a major competition since 1995. The latter date still marks the last time Croatia won a prize.
Lafayette played in the 2014 World Cup but didn’t make a significant impact. However, even such a playmaker would be very useful in today’s Qualifiers where the system prevents the head coach from using all the best players.
Overall, self-blame is not a solution for Croatian basketball. Whether the poor results are a problem of federation chiefs, national clubs, a big talent gap between players or Dragan Bender’s bad karma (as some fans have noticed), Croatia must act and move on. forward as soon as possible. .
Luckily there are golden skies at the end of the storm. Croatia have qualified for EuroBasket 2022, and this is where a fresh start could begin. Crossed fingers.