Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

BasketNews continues its series of articles about recognized basketball countries that have been underperforming for extended periods of time. Yesterday we presented the state of Greek basketball, while today we dive into Croatia's basketball situation.

3-pointers this season

27%
8,0
Points made: 8,0
Accuracy: 27,0%
Place in standings: 17
Record max: 10
Record min: 5
Most made 3FGs: Bojan Bogdanovic

It is strange to read quotes in one of the biggest news websites in Croatia stating that the debacle in Split during the Olympic Qualifying Tournament was not surprising. Once among the strongest basketball countries in the world, currently a nation that is getting used to losing without putting up much of a fight. I just hope it's not some kind of Drazen Petrovic curse because it would be cruel and hardly reversible.

Much like another former basketball superpower Lithuania, Croatia immediately produced spectacular results in the international arena after declaring its independence. In 1992 Croatia won silver medals in Barcelona Olympics (finishing second to the original Dream Team). After that followed three straight tournaments in which Balkan country captured bronze medals - the EuroBasket (1993, 1995) and the FIBA World Cup in 1994. However, 1995 was the last time Croatia won any award.

How can it be for the nation that managed to produce 24 NBA players (four Hall-of-Famers, two NBA champions, Sixth Man of the Year, and Rookie of the Year runner-up) over the span of the last 30 years?

Perhaps we could start with Croatia's club participation in European competitions. Or the lack of it. The last time the Croatian team participated in the EuroLeague was back in the 2015-16 season. And even then, Cedevita Zagreb was far away from moving mountains (8-16). Days of mighty Cibona Zagreb - two-time EuroLeague winner - seem to be long gone and forgotten.

The last time participating in the EuroCup? Cedevita Zagreb again, back in 2018-19. The outcome? The exact, unimpressive, bottom-of-the-standings type of performance: 5 wins 11 losses.

Even the Basketball Champions League, widely recognized as only the third strongest division in European club basketball competition, is not guaranteed for Croatians. BC Split will have to earn their spot through a qualification tournament.

The Balkan region has a solid Adriatic League (ABA). Last season three of Croatia's teams participated in the tournament. Unfortunately, participation was all they did, as Cibona (9), Zadar (10), and Split (13) all failed even to post winning records. The last meaningful season for Croatian teams in the ABA was in 2013-14. Two nation's (Cibona, Cedevita) teams made it to the league's final, with Cibona winning the championship. And yes, you guessed it, it was the last time Croatians did any damage in their regional tournament.

We could also look into the Croatian basketball federation. According to a poll conducted by the most prominent news website (Index.hr), the country's sport governing body is the most to blame for Croatia's poor performance at the FIBA OQT.

Credit BasketNews

And if one were to look any deeper, there's plenty of finger-pointing within the Croatian basketball community.

"What he did in the last seven minutes of the game against Germany was a classic basketball suicide," after the team's loss in the OQT semifinal, commented Dino Radja. NBA Hall of Famer serves as the President of the expert advisory committee in the Croatian basketball federation. "When we saw what he was doing, what moves he was making, who was playing his defense, Stojko (Stojko Vrankovic, the President of the federation) and I shook heads in the stands. Had he intentionally gone to lose, some decisions would have made more sense to him. I've never seen anything like it in my career."

While the team's head coach Veljko Mrsic had a different view. First, he said that he was very pleased with the performance and that it was the best match for Croatia under his leadership. Then, at the press conference, he almost physically clashed with the FIBA ​​representative, only to state the next day that the tournament in Split was actually unimportant and that it only served to get the players together and help prepare for the EuroBasket.

Years of losing have seemingly changed the mentality of the entire nation. Back in the day, three bronze medals in a row were actually considered failures, a "catastrophe," which warranted the firing of head coaches (Novosel, Gjergja, Aco Petrovic). As Sasha Chobanov of Index.hr not so elegantly put it, "fear, insecurity, defeats as a standard and constant have injected into Croatian basketball the loser mentality. Today it is impossible for the Croatian national team to make a result with some miraculous turn."

The situation is so dire that Croatia is seemingly open to extreme measures. There's intense debate regarding the naturalization of a foreign player.

"If it puts us side by side where we will have a place on the podium - then yes," says President of the Federation Stojko Vrankovic. The country's support for such a move is equally convincing, as 65% of respondents said 'yes' in another poll conducted by Index.hr.

There were reports that George Hill was interested in joining Croatia, as he communicated through his then-teammate Damjan Rudez. Also, TJ McConnell talked to Dario Saric on the same topic. Both of them would probably never make it to the Team USA squad, while Croatia could provide them with an opportunity.

Good thing there's always tomorrow, while human nature is inclined towards goodness. Croatia has qualified for the EuroBasket 2022 tournament, and that's where a new winning streak could start. Hopefully.

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Anonymous
In my point of view this is just the bad luck.
2021-07-10
+3
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Anonymous
Totally agree 👍
2021-07-10
-4
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Anonymous
Here, in Lithuania, about the same...🤔
2021-07-10
+1
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Anonymous
USA basketball is the best :)
2021-07-10
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