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The Specials of BM / Towards Eurobasket 2022 – Croatia third wheel, black beast of Italy – by Giovanni Bocciero

We are now, the countdown is almost over for the start of Eurobasket 2022. With or without Danilo Gallinari, it is all too clear that the group that awaits Italy will have Greece as the favorite, Great Britain as a possible mattress team, Ukraine and Estonia annoying supporting actors, but Croatia is the third wheel. We could almost always tell them. Who does not remember when the Croatian selection, on the occasion of the race for the qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup in Trieste, managed to win 78-72, complicating our path. Among other things, with a Bojan Bogdanovic with 26 points and 15/15 from the line. Or even more painful, who does not remember the defeat in the final of the Turin Pre-Olympic in 2016, that 84-78 which is still an open wound.

Some of the protagonists will still be on the parquet of the Mediolanum Forum, such as the aforementioned Bogdanovic, but also the former Olimpia Milano Kruno Simon, as well as Mario Hezonja and Dario Saric. The full list of 12 players called includes Toni Perkovic, naturalized Jaleen Smith, Roko Prkacin, Lovro Gnjidic, Karlo Matkovic, Ivan Ramljak, Dominik Mavra and Ivica Zubac. Coach Damir Mulaomerovic communicated the choices over a week ago, having to give up, for example, the former NBA Dragan Bender as well as the new Cantù Roko Rogic. Former player of Cibona, Fortitudo Bologna, Panathinaikos, Real Madrid and Olympiakos, Mulaomerovic coached at Cibona and the national teams of Bosnia and Kosovo. He has been the coach of Cedevita since 2021, and from this year he is also the coach of Croatia. For this reason, the European Championship represents his first big appointment after being eliminated from the first phase of the qualifications for the 2023 World Cup. Croatia is in fact the national team that has paid the most for the windows imposed by Fiba, and it is perhaps precisely for this one who will present himself to the continental competition with a knife between his teeth, determined to prove his worth.

Bogdanovic is the star of the team, a player in some ways like Gallinari, that is, capable of playing from the winger both shoulders and in front of the basket. Deadly from medium and long range, he is not quick but effective when he puts the ball on the ground and attacks the basket, mainly exploiting the control of the body. Dario Saric will return after justifying his absence due to injury for the entire season. A player who combines technique with determination, he can also play as a pure center. Role that would belong to Ivica Zubac, although the intentions of the coach could be those of using the athlete in a running match. Big but with great footwork, he can make a difference near the basket. And even if Croatia is among the best nationals to shoot from the bow, they do not disdain at all to ride its center. The long package is completed by the 2002 Prkacin big winger, who has been in the national team for two years already, and the 2001 middle class Matkovic, chosen this year in the draft but remained at Mulaomerovic’s court at Cedevita.

On the outside, the big news is represented by the naturalized Smith. Solid play that is building a career in Germany, just this year on his debut with Alba Berlin won the championship-cup double. Simon with the experience he finds himself is the player who can take responsibility and above all crucial shots in the important moments. Hezonja, on the other hand, is that talent that never blossomed, who has tried in every way to make it to the NBA and who will play for Real Madrid from next year. His career was also influenced by injuries, and in fact in the last qualifying matches he was kept at rest as a precaution. The play Mavra and the Ramljak winger complete the external department which will also count on the young Perkovic and Gnjidic.

Giovanni Bocciero

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