Poland: a journalist’s diary of EuroBasket, Slovenians & Krolewskie Part 2

Eurobasket 2009Here’s part two of John Hobbs’ diary of EuroBasket 2009 in Poland. In the conclusion of the two-part feature, John chats, Slovenian bars, trouble at the the GB-Spain encounter, spotting the EuroBasket dancers, and why he loves this game!!

DAY TRE

After lunch (yes, I am skipping the morning), we decided to walk around the shopping mall, which was shaped like a lumpy bubble (if there is such a thing). And had a relatively quick look around. To be honest, it was not the most productive of strolls, as we were still hanging from the night before – free beer until 2am does knock the energy out of you, trust me!

We walked back to the house, and saw our Slovenian room-mates had finally woken up, after their night of drinking at Bar Slovenia (re-named for EuroBasket). After a few chats about our antics the night before; I chatted to a fan, Ajosa about Slovenian Basketball, and the expectation of the National Team in this competition. I badly wanted to have a chat to one of their fans about what basketball means to them, and Slovenian Basketball in general, but had no time – due in fact, to sleep, watching EuroBasket and having a good time in Warsaw, getting to know the place a bit more, which I did not want to deprive them of.

I asked Ajosa about the loss of Sasha Vujacic and Beno Udric to their line-up, and the factor of losing Udric was of greater importance to the young fan compared to Sasha. He explained to me how the Los Angeles shooter became very lazy and seemingly not interested with how the team was shaping up. When Sasha was placed on the injured list – as much as Coach Zdovic was reluctant to let him go, the fans it seemed to me, were not that disappointed. I can see where the fans were coming from, but more importantly, the loss of an NBA player will always leave a big hole in any team’s plans, and as Beno Udrih is a player competing in the same calibre as Sasha, it kind of surprised me that they would shrug off one player as if it was nothing.

After arriving at the Torwar Arena early yesterday, we all decided that that was not going to be the case the second time around. So, we got the bus to the arena for the second day of action. Now I don’t know how exactly you were meant to pay for riding the bus, as the locals kept pressing a few buttons, and put their coins in, but we simply got on, sat down and when we arrived, got off the bus. I guess tourists ride free – heck, I’m not complaining.

On arrival, my friend Joe noticed a hefty security presence compared to yesterday – but we did not think much of it and walked to the tent, to find day two of the green invasion. Don’t know if security was heightened because of them, but either way, the party atmosphere continued.

Standing in the tent, there was a gap of about five minutes where Joe, Adam, Marcus and I could not budge again, as we were getting asked for pictures, and we left the Great Britain jersey in the room – honest truth! Not going to lie, it was a great feeling, says the person who is not the greatest photo model; Seriously, just not a fan of the snap, unless I’ve had a few. So I decide to stroll along to the arena, which was buzzing already and this is with an hour and a half until tip-off, where Slovenia and Serbia locked horns.

Now I’m not going to delve into this, moan, complain and get a e-mail in response to what I am about to say next, but not letting in a person because he is wearing an England Football Shirt or he’s “too drunk” is totally inexcusable! But, that’s what our Polish security pals did to two of our fans – and two of my friends. I was oblivious to what happened at first, but when Adam rang me, and met me in the arena, I felt truly sorry for our two fans. The British Basketball League writer, Dave Ryan straight away told me to go to FIBA and talk to them about this; which is exactly what I did. I told them to get back to the arena. Unfortunately, when they arrived (both totally sober, but alcohol still in system), they were given a choice agreed by security and FIBA.. Be breathalised, and if over the limit, you’ll be taken away by the Police, or if you’re under the legal limit, you’re welcome to come back in. We had been in here for three days, drinking practically – I’ll leave the answer in the hands of you, the readers as to what happened next? They did not spend a night in a Polish cell though.

All that aside, which, at that time I could not block out. It was really annoying that my friends could not be let in, after hearing the circumstances, and basically being given little chance to come in by security (thanks to FIBA for being helpful and fair though), I sat down, Adam went off to sit with the GB fans, and I took in Serbia against Slovenia. Now I’ll admit, I now have a soft-spot for Slovenia, and was suporting them in this tie, but the more I think about it, this is a game were Serbia had the more confidence! They had beaten the favourites and World Champions in Spain the day before – and comfortably! Slovenia needed a strong fourth quarter to see off Great Britain, so momentum wise, Serbia had the upper hand.

Now, what I want you to do, is ignore my last comments – Slovenia wiped Serbia off the court. Don’t think there is a Slovenian player who didn’t play well. There were points in he game where if you said, ‘this team that are behind wiped the floor with Spain last night’, I would of told you to lay off the Polish Vodka. Slovenia went through from Group C, winning 80-69.

On paper, a mis-match when you look at the quality and the height difference between the two sides, but the beautiful game we call basketball is not played on paper – thank god for that. But when GB were on the receiving end of a 12-0 Spanish start, I, as a British hoop fan, wished the game could stop!

Then I’ll fast forward to the fourth quarter, and with the game getting that little bit closer, Spain call a time out. And two minutes later, with under five minutes left on the clock, Spain up one, and Great Britain on the attack – Jarrett Hart, free as a bird, steps to the plate and drains a trey – the so-called minnows of EuroBasket are beating the number three world ranked team, and, as said, the favourites to win the tournament in Spain!

Once that three-pointer rattled the net, the entire crowd inside Torwar was smelling an upset on the table, and the Slovenian fans had stayed behind to cheer on Chris Finch’s troops. I got a stare-down from the security guard in front of me for jumping out of my seat – to add to that, I was sitting next to a journalist from a newspaper firm based in Barcelona, and he did not want to be recognized – well, do you blame him?

Pau Gasol though, brought Spain back from the depths of elimination, with a triple, following the departure of Kieron Achara (fouled out) and Spain held their nerve to come out victorious.

Truly the one that got away! Juan Carlos Navarro stated that it was a “complcated game”, well you can see his point, but the look on his face stated that Spain were in survival camp, and barely got out the other side. Coach Scariolo looked pissed off. He was calm in the press conference, but his mind was definitely on other matters – like launching at his superstars. Chris Finch was gracious in defeat, but like most of us thought, Great Britain might of lost, but we have arrived!

I went outside to find Adam waiting for me by the entrance. We hopped into a taxi and headed back to the house, to find Joe and Marcus drunk, and I bought myself a beer, but knew that I had to stay at least a little bit sober, as Great Britain’s media rep, Zarah informed me that she had finally arranged an interview with Great Britain and Aris center, Andy Betts, for me.

After an hour of drinking, us and our Slovenian neighbours strolled along Warsaw, and our destination? A Slovenian bar!!

I had thought to myself, “Crap, they find out we are Brits, forget the friendly tones before match-day – they are going to beat the shit out of us!”

Turns out though, that once they found out we were British, they were welcoming. But one random fan, did say to me “Most of the people did not mind that we were not from Slovenia, but there will be one that might take it the wrong way.”  I noted it and kept my mouth shut, as did the rest, who did not know what had been said. I had a beer and generally enjoyed myself, I was in awe that I was for the first time in my life, in a genuine basketball bar! Their were live bands (Slovenian), chanting, singing and the buzz was outstanding – I said to one fan I knew from the trip, Mike, that “I’m in awe”. – and I was! We sat down, and found our friend from the Plymouth Raiders, Steve near us. So he got a beer and sat down with us, and in Slovenia’s own nest, we openly spoke about Great Britain’s game with Spain – the loss was hard to take, but it’s another experience to add to Finch’s ball of string. I decided to shoot off early, as I had a chat planned with the 7’2 giant out of Leicester. The others? Well you take a guess as to what happened to them?

DAY QUATTRO

While the others were sleeping, and hangovers beckoning. I was woken up by my alarm clock – which I quickly shut off to let the others sleep. But found no text from Zarah – which did not bother me, so I snoozed for a bit; and about an hour later, woke back up to find a text had just come in and it was Zarah saying either at the Torwar Arena at 11:45 or the team hotel at 1:00? Lunch followed by a short trip to the hotel was already sounding like a plan! So I texted Zarah back saying that I would meet her at the hotel at 1:00.

One by one they all woke up, surprised to see me still in bed. But once I had told them about eating, then me going for a maximum of 20 minutes, they were in agreement of that.

After our lunch, I made the walk over to the team hotel, easy walk, and when I arrived, Zarah was there and let me know that Andy will be out in a few minutes as the team are having their lunch. So I go to sit down, and spot a guy I met while we were both covering the ULEB Cup and have now known for about two years, Rob Dugdale from the BBC. Rob has been a journalist for about twenty years, and this guy’s knowledge on hoops is virtually second to none. But at the risk of him reading this, and his head growing, (seriously) I’ll leave it at that! Anyway, we sat down and had a detailed discussion about the Spain game, and Rob thought, we got ahead of ourselves, and seemingly were unsure of how to handle being in the lead against such opposition. Fair point of view, I simply put it down to experience, and Spain’s ability and that word again, experience to get through rough patches. Towards the final three minutes, they showed enough composure to go on a game-winning run and restrict Britain’s scoring oppontunities.

Rob, like me was interviewing, and he sat and chatted with Robert Archibald, while I waited for Andy. Now being freelance, you get asked to do different things by different people. This piece I was doing with Betts was for Greek club, Aris Thessaloniki. So, after a few minutes of waiting, finally got to meet and introduce myself to Andy, and got down to business. Being 7’2 as well, it makes you feel like a small child just talking to him, but, a very easy-going chap, and managed to get two separate interviews with GB’s big man.

I left the team hotel through the busy underground and met up with the lads at the Museum of Science and Technology, and strolled back to the house. The Slovenian boys popped in, asked how my chat went? Then showed Adam and Joe and I the Marcus slideshow from the night before. I will not say anymore on the subject. Apart from, the things you can can do when you’re drunk!!

Day three, and day three at the Torwar Arena. The question was, can we all get in today. The boys decided not to drink before the game, despite the pleas of the already qualified Slovenian fans to drink with them. I, this time decided to wait until the lads got in before I went into the press-room door – and, sure enough they one-by-one were in after being searched (as standard).

I walked in, and literally could not hear myself talk, as I said hello to the people I knew. FIBA blogger, Paul Nilsen, who I’ve known for a good few years was already there and set-up, GB jumper on and proudly. Despite wearing that same jumper on the first day, I felt like I wanted to represent my country of origin, so I placed my mini Union Jack on the table, like I did against Spain.

Game one; and easily the most mouth watering tie of the group, Slovenia vs Spain, and wow, what a game it was. It needed overtime to settle it, but Spain prevailed, 90-84. My memory will be Slovenia’s buzzer-beater to force OT. Talk about waiting for confirmation, and I was all ready to do my bit on the podcast as well – had to change it all! Not a happy bunny.

I went to the stands for Serbia-GB – and, if we won, we were through. We were confident, and the rest of the fans I joined were in excellent voice, like they were against Spain – and after a solid start, fell under the back door and pick and roll trap and despite great performances from Hoston Rocket, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Nate Reinking, (21 points for Nate. That put a smile on the old Sharks faces). Serbia were simply too strong for us, three games and practices took it’s toll on the guys, and it showed. Great Britain were out, and Serbia advanced.

The press conference was one that hit home! Finch and Drew Sullivan, along with Pops looked exhausted, but with their heads held high! I was only in there to get quotes from Coach Ivkovic of Serbia, but studying the body language of the proud GB warriors, said it all – they were worn-out. A quick thank you to Zarah for all her help, and to be honest, I wanted to leave and see the lads from all nations that we had met over the days we were in Warsaw, and had one final pint before signing ourselves out of Torwar.

To those who have read my mad ramblings, thank you for reading, and I really mean that! Please stay tuned for a special two-part edition of the TB Pod coming in the next few days – but, before I finish off. Our final night in Warsaw was the reason why I love basketball so much. Myself, Chris Mitchell and Rob spoke about our passion for this great sport of ours at the media drinks evening, and our final hurrah was so typical of what we spoke about!

Us Great Britain fans, joining with about 20 Slovenia fans just going out, chatting basketball and going out and having fun at an underground club. Now this seems wierd at first, and your wondering what does this have to do with basketball? Well, the answer is very simple.. How do you think we even met? Basketball; why are we now friends? Basketball; and as a bonus, the EuroBasket Dancers were in the club as well! They knew who the GB and Slovenia fans were as well, and had a laugh with us before meeting up with their boyfriends. Perfect!

Aljosa, Mike, Jure, Jure, Anze, Illevski, Mavric, Borut and any Slovenian fan that chatted any GB fan over the four days spent (well five, but nothing happened there). Plus, any that I met that I missed on that list – thank you for making Warsaw a memorable stay. To the GB fans, you did the team proud! Great support, and Worthing have a new friend in Steve from Plymouth.

Next stop – Turkey 2010. Hold on tight!

Thanks again for reading!

John