Back in 2005, the Czech Republic made a rare appearance at Eurobasket 2007 and were sent packing after three games. Lubos Barton and Jiri Welsch were the two kingpins of that Czech team and through the years, they remained with the national side that has been in the international wilderness.
That was until 2013, when a fresh-faced Czech Republic side were eliminated from Eurobasket in the first round, despite glimpses of promise and two victories. Fast forward further to 2015 and many thought that the Czechs would advance from what was a supposed weak group in Riga but not advance further.
But driven by a new and exciting generation of Czech talent, the nation ranked number 49 in the world, below the Virgin Islands and Qatar could be in line for a spot at the Rio Olympics, albeit through the additional qualifying rounds that take place next year.
And the new breed, led by Barcelona’s Tomas Satoransky and Fenerbahce’s Jan Vesely will be there to try and get the Czechs to that promised land. But despite the two aforementioned players’ sublime talents, they still need guidance – and the veteran heads Welsch and Barton – that have been with the programme since they struggled to qualify from any of FIBA’s events from 2005 onwards are still around to offer a hand.
“They are exceptional players,” Welsch, a veteran of the international stage since 1999 said of both Satoransky and Vesely.
“Both can do things that you can not teach. Jan [Vesely] has one of the best feels for the ball, for the game and Tomas [Satoransky] has just a spectacular basketball body and basketball mind, so they are great players. They [both] came into the national team in 2012 but really Eurobasket 2013 was when they came over and took over the team.”
Welsch, who plays his basketball for perennial Czech champions CEZ Nymburk, used to be in Vesely and Satoransky’s shoes. The combo guard/forward used to be the national team’s go-to guy along with Barton. But both have now reached the twilight of their playing career and gone are the days where they were the first options on offence.
Instead, the veteran Czech players play minutes off the bench and give the new generation words of wisdom, so that they can possibly lead the nation to new heights.
“It used to be for many years the team of Lubos Barton and me, but in 2013, the younger generation just came and took over the team and they [Vesely and Satoransky] are the best players,” Welsch said.
“It’s good that they have good veterans like us so that we can guide them in the future.”
“It’s good for these young players to have guys like Barton and Welsch to give them instruction and guidance,” Czech forward Patrik Auda added. “Our future is very bright, but the hard work has to continue if we want to keep our momentum going.”
And now, a spot at next year’s Olympic Games in Rio is within this ambitious squad’s grasp. It is certainly attainable but the Czechs are not entertaining it.
“True, the Olympic Games is within reach but we are taking it each game at a time,” Auda said. “It’s not something you really think about, you just take it one game at a time.”
“Oh man, no, I’m not even thinking about it,” forward Blake Schilb said when asked if he could believe that the Czech Republic within touching distance of the Olympics, even it be the Qualifying Tournament.
Even so, to even mention Czech Republic and the Olympics in the same breath shows how much progression the nation has taken since the days where Barton and Welsch were the main faces.
The torch has been passed.