There is no place to hide for Croatia in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers, but hiding is not in the plans of the newly-appointed head coach Drazen Anzulovic.
After naming a star-studded 28-player squad for the upcoming games against Italy and Romania, the 51-year-old play caller could have as many as six of the country’s top players at his disposal for the third window.
Finding themselves between a rock and hard place in Group D, the currently last-placed Croatia should be able to count on the services of their contingent of NBA players, headed up by Indiana Pacers swingman Bojan Bogdanovic and Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric.
Also included on the squad are free agent Mario Hezonja, Dragan Bender of the Phoenix Suns and two potential senior national team debutants in Ivica Zubac of the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers center Ante Zizic.
“Due to the new competition system and the specifics regarding our NBA players, we have a wider list of candidates for this qualification window. We will narrow down our candidate list to 14 players for the qualifying games against Italy and Romania,” said Anzulovic.
“Later in the summer, there will be a tournament in China and there will be two more qualifying windows in September and November, so we wanted to have as many players as possible on this expanded list.”
Anzulovic received a call from the Croatian Basketball Federation to lead the national team after his predecessor Ivica Skelin handed in a letter of resignation following the lack of success in the November and February windows.
After starting the Qualifiers with three defeats in a row, Croatia scored their first win by beating Netherlands 82-78 in their last home game of the First Round at the Dvorana Kresimir Cosic in Zadar and keep their hopes of progressing to the Second Round alive.
An uninspiring 1-3 record still has them at the bottom of the Group D standings, but they do control their own destiny and would advance by winning their remaining two games.
The Anzulovic-coached Croatia will take on the undefeated group leaders Italy in Trieste on June 28 before their all-decisive match-up on the road against Romania in Cluj-Napoca on July 1.