Ukraine coach Mike Fratello is unsure that certain players will feature for his side at next summer’s Eurobasket but like every tournament; is planning any possible changes methodically, even if there are just nine months until the team travels to Latvia to begin their campaign.
One of those players is Pooh Jeter, who plays his basketball in China. The 31-year-old veteran recently became a father and even though Fratello would want the skilled guard on board when the team travels to Riga in September, understands that family comes first.
“Pooh [Eugene] Jeter just had a child and when we talked last we said ‘let’s see how life is like for you as a new father’, because he is very dedicated,” Fratello told FIBA Europe in a recent interview.
“So I want him to come, my heart wants him there, but I want to be sure that everything is ok with the mother and the child. So far everything seems to be ok and he is playing in China right now, but I cannot tell you he is going to come 100 percent.”
The cautious Fratello will not be drawn into predictions or thoughts about Ukraine’s chances in this group so soon before the draw for the tournament was made clear, and especially before he has a good idea on the composition of his team’s roster.
“If you ask how many games can we win in this group, I think the preparation is going to be very important, for any of these teams,” he said. “If I could tell you right now who is going to show up and play for us in the summer, it would make it easier to talk about my team.”
“Some NBA players will come [to Eurobasket] others will not, but we don’t have that many NBA players in Ukraine.
“We used to have Slava [Viacheslav Kravtsov] in the NBA, who is now playing in China and we have a young player right now, [Phoenix Suns center] Alex Len, who has not yet played for the national team.
When Fratello originally took the position of national team coach of Ukraine back in February 2011, many asked if he would be able to juggle his coaching responsibilities with his broadcasting job, where he commentates on the YES network for the Brooklyn Nets.
But the New Jersey man has breathed a new lease of life into the nation, and the transition has not seemed to slow the one-time NBA coach down. Ukraine currently sits 40th in the FIBA world rankings, and basketball has never been more popular – all due to the success not just of Fratello – but the players as well.
The 67-year-old is now nearly four years into the job but in his prestigious 34-year coaching career, he has never experienced a tournament like he will at Eurobasket where there are four host nations involved.
“The new thing for everybody is that when there was one host country, you hoped that you didn’t get in that group, because you ended up fighting the fans as well as the team that they are out every night to support.
“Now, you basically have two host countries in each group because of the proximity and the whole process involved, so you have to be mentally prepared as a team and understand what you are going up against when you go into these games, with these teams having a lot people rooting for them.
“This is going to be a new experience for everyone, we’ll see what happens.”
While Fratello was steering Ukraine to its best ever finish of sixth place at the 2013 Eurobasket in Slovenia, the nation itself was beginning its preparations to host the next installment – but political turmoil unfortunately forced FIBA Europe to hold off having Ukraine as its hosts for now.
Maybe Ukraine might have their belated shot in 2017? But for now, they prepare for Riga next September.