It was September 20, 2013 on a warm, but overcast day in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana and inside the Stozice Arena, the Ukraine had beaten Italy 66-58 to secure either fifth or sixth place at Eurobasket.
This result also secured the Ukraine a spot at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, something that you would have thought unlikely when Eurobasket began, nearly three weeks earlier.
Despite the jubilation, Ukraine had to settle for sixth place in the end as they were defeated by the hosts Slovenia.
But Eurobasket 2013 had no doubt put the independent nation on the map, and during half-time in the third place game between Spain and Croatia, the official logo for the 2015 tournament was unveiled as the Ukraine was scheduled to be the host nation.
The Ukraine-based dance troupe, the Red Foxes led the stunning presentation of the new 2015 Eurobasket emblem, a World Cup spot was confirmed and the country were under the guidance of legendary head coach Mike Fratello. It was safe to say that the future was looking promising.
But, in matters where basketball takes a back seat, the nation’s president Viktor Yanukovych rejected an European Union association agreement and opted to remain close to neighbours Russia in February 2014. This resulted in mass protests and violence around capital Kiev and the city of Donetsk, which ultimately led to the president being voted out and civil war between Ukraine and the Russians, which tore the country apart.
And when the focus resorted back to hoops in mid-2014, Ukraine were expectedly forced to relinquish their Eurobasket tournament due to the conflict and were eliminated from the group stages of the FIBA World Cup in Bilbao last summer.
Indeed, 2014 was perhaps the worst year that the Ukraine had faced as an independent country but while 2015 is all about rebuilding and restoring, the basketball team is now unfortunately having to do the same.
The Ukrainian Basketball Federation president Oleksandr Volkov was not re-elected for this term, leaving the door open for Mikhail Brodskiy to step in, and, with a new budget that has been left with him, has been forced to make changes.
Last weekend, Fratello parted ways with the national side due to the Federation being unable to fund his salary. Now, in an interview with Greek-based website Eurohoops, influential point guard Eugene “Pooh” Jeter has confirmed that he will not be participating at this summer’s Eurobasket as Ukraine head to Riga in Latvia to face Lithuania, Belgium, Estonia, Czech Republic and the hosts themselves.
“I’m not going to play with the national team this summer,” Jeter said. One reason is that Fratello and Volkov are not on the team. The last two summers were great. It was a great chance for me to help a team that hadn’t achieved something major to play well in a Eurobasket and qualify to a World Cup.
“I have a history with the team since 2008 and I’ve been through a lot with all the guys there. I remember that most people had predicted that we would be last in the rankings.
“We defeated Serbia, Italy, we advanced and won a spot in the World Cup, we found ourselves in the six best teams in Europe. It pains me that I will not play.
“I have a newborn son, I want to spend time with him and also I’m a free agent. I want to make sure that I make the best possible choice. It saddens me that I won’t be with my friends in Ukraine, but I’m trying to look at the matter from its positive side.”
It is certainly understandable that Jeter has chosen to spend the summer being with his son, and getting to know him, but while Ukraine will miss his talents and team-highs in scoring and assists, they will just have to move on.
Hopefully though, the spotlight has not dimmed and it wasn’t a mere ’15 minutes of fame’ moment for Ukraine.