Slovenia and Serbia clashed today in the final of EuroBasket 2017, a game that was ultimately won by Slovenia. It was a historic final game and a historic victory. The game wrapped a fantastic EuroBasket that has captured the imagination of global Basketball. The tournament showcased why it is arguably the best in international basketball.
As for Slovenia and Serbia, some Serb fans have described the final as a Serbia vs. Serbia final. Is that a fair assessment? Let’s look at some of the facts of tonight’s game to shed some light on this historic clash.
For those who have followed the geopolitics of the region, the ties between Serbia and Slovenia are close. Both nations used to be part of Yugoslavia and there are some Serb roots in both Slovenia as a nation and as a Basketball team.
For example, some of the Slovenian stars could have played for Serbia. Luka Doncic, one of the star men of the new champs (unfortunately brought off injured in the final), has Serbian roots on his father’s side. Indeed, he had the option to play for Serbia over Slovenia if he had chosen. Another example is Goran Dragic, the powerhouse scorer of Slovenia’s gold medal game.
Dragic has a Serbian father, while fellow NT teammates Sasa Zagorac and Aleksej Nikolic also have Serbian roots in their family. Then there is head coach Igor Kokoskov. Let’s not forget, the tactician behind the historic success is a Serbian.
These links are there and cannot be ignored, but let’s not take anything away from Slovenia. The country introduced numerous new entries into Basketball’s history books. It became the least populated country to ever win a medal and EuroBasket, with just 2 million inhabitants.
The team also progressed to the title without losing a game, while the victory handed Slovenia its first-ever medal at either the European Championship, World Championship, or Olympic Games.
Then there is Serbia, a team that is no doubt hurting tonight but can console itself with the fact it has become a powerhouse of global Basketball. We are long past the days when Yugoslavia dominated European Basketball, but Serbia has grown and is now next to the USA at the pinnacle of the sport.
As an independent country, Serbia has become a powerhouse. It is worth remembering tonight was the third consecutive international Basketball final for the team. They lost to the USA at the Olympic Games and World Championship.
There are two ways of looking at that. Firstly, it could be argued that Serbia always fails at the final hurdle. However, it possibly shows a country in the ascendancy in hoops and one that could be set for a major tournament breakthrough.
Cracking the USA at the Olympics or World’s is tough, but surely a European Championship is within reach of this team. EuroBasket 2017 hosted largely a patchwork Serbian team that was missing key players. NBA rising star Nikola Jokic was absent and Milos Teodosic injured, while Miroslav Raduljica, Nemanja Nedovic, Nikola Kalinic, and Nemanja Bjelica were injured as well.