Credit: BasketNews.lt/T.Matijoška, FIBA
Credit BasketNews.lt/T.Matijoška, FIBA

Ever since FIBA introduced qualifying windows for their competitions, the clash with the EuroLeague schedule is always a hot topic.

Usually, the strongest national teams can't bring their best players from the NBA or EuroLeague, meaning that smaller basketball nations have a better chance to pull off an upset.

We don't need to look for examples far away. On Thursday, qualification for FIBA World Cup 2023 began, and in the very first game Belarus 84-70 upset Turkey. Later that day, Great Britain beat Greece (78-69), while Serbia had plenty of problems with Latvia (101-100).

So, what's the case this time? BasketNews had a look into team rosters to find out which EuroLeague players managed to or will help their countries.

Georgia

Tornike Shengelia's story is probably the craziest one in this FIBA window. The Georgian star played in the EuroLeague on Thursday, where he spent almost 32 minutes on the floor against FC Bayern Munich.

He accumulated 12 points (3/6 2PT, 1/3 3PT, 3/4 FT), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 9 drawn fouls, 3 turnovers, and 17 PIR.

After the game finished in Moscow, there were approximately 20 hours left until Georgia's game against Ukraine.

Despite that, Shengelia reached Tbilisi and spent another 33 minutes on the floor, finishing the game with 16 points (7/13 2PT, 2/2 FT), 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 4 turnovers, and 23 PIR.

All these efforts were worth it because Georgia beat Ukraine 88-83.

"The first time I saw the national team play, I was on the court in this gym," Shengelia said after the win against Ukraine. "My first dream - before it was to go to the NBA - was to play for the national team and play here for my country."

"This is the motivation I've had since that day and nothing changed since. 100-percent there, and it's not going to change until I can't play," he added.

Lithuania

Mindaugas Kuzminskas will be the only Lithuanian from EuroLeague who will help his national team. As you can expect, his case is quite similar to Shengelia's.

On Thursday, Kuzminskas played 20 minutes in Athens against Panathinaikos and was one of the best Zenit's players as he finished the game with 13 points (4/7 2PT, 1/3 3PT, 2/2 FT), 8 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, and 14 PIR.

Kuzminskas will wear the Lithuanian national team jersey on Monday against the Czech Republic, but the trip will be quite challenging from a logistic point of view.

The game will take place in Opava, a city which doesn't have an airport. The nearest city with an airport is Prague, which is a four-hour bus ride to Opava.

Coming back to Russia will be as much of a challenge. Therefore, Zenit made a slight exception. At the very first, it was agreed that Kuzminskas will be back for Tuesday's evening practice.

Credit Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

However, after seeing traveling difficulties and the fact that Kuzminskas won't make it for the mentioned practice, Zenit still allowed Lithuanian forward to go.

"I talked to the national team coach, and he said that they want me, even for the second game," Kuzminskas said in a recent interview with BasketNews. "Then, I talked to coach Pascual and our GM (Manos Papadopoulos). Both of them were really flexible and let me go. So, I have to thank them for letting me help my country."

Asked about the whole situation in general, Kuzminskas stressed that players cannot do much.

"We as players cannot do anything," Kuzminskas noted. "Of course, I would love to be able to join the national team from day one and participate in practices and games. As players, the only thing we can do is accept the tough flights and the tight schedule - that's it."

Russia

Russia might not have top-tier stars, but it can boast of EuroLeague players' quantity.

Vladimir Ivlev (CSKA Moscow), Semen Antonov (CSKA Moscow), Evgeny Valiev (UNICS Kazan), Artem Komolov (UNICS Kazan), Alexander Khomenko (CSKA Moscow), and Viacheslav Zaitsev (UNICS Kazan) already played in the first game against Italy, which Russians won 92-78.

Moreover, Andrey Zubkov, Denis Zakharov, Dmitry Kulagin, Igor Volkhin (all from Zenit St. Petersburg), and Georgy Zhbanov (UNICS Kazan) are also on the roster.

So, in theory, Russia can have eleven EuroLeague players for their second game against Iceland. Not bad at all.

Credit FIBA

Serbia

On their list, Serbia has such players as Vasilije Micic, Nemanja Nedovic, and Vanja Marinkovic. However, the reality is that Filip Petrusev will be the only EuroLeague player on the roster for the game against Belgium.

Just like the majority of players, Petrusev made a significant sacrifice to reach his national team camp. As the 21-year-old said himself, he joined the practice straight after the flight from Istanbul.

"I landed two or three hours ago and managed to get to training," Petrusev revealed. "Coach Pesic tried to introduce me to the system as soon as possible, to catch the movements in attack and defense."

"Everything is good, we have another training in Belgium, we are traveling on Saturday, and I think we are ready for the game," he added.

Turkey

Shane Larkin will wear Turkey’s jersey in a game against Great Britain. Same as Tolga Gecim, Erten Gazi, Bugrahan Tuncer (all from Anadolu Efes), Melih Mahmutoglu, Metecan Birsen, and Sehmus Hazer from Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul.

Tuncer, Gazi, Gecim, Hazer, and Birsen were already with the team for the Belarus game, but their presence wasn't enough as Turkey suffered a 70-84 defeat.

In Turkey, that 'level is willingness' for clubs to release the players is hard to know but not that hard to guess as well. 

Every time, some practical solution is found, and that was the case with the current window. The Fenerbahce playing Efes made it easier because in this way, the Federation was provided a chance to find a full compromise.

Credit FIBA

For the Belarus game, the clubs were given the right to keep one player for their upcoming Euroleague match against each other, which was on the same day as the Belarus game. For the game against Great Britain, everyone let all the players join NT. That was the agreement. 

This was a good compromise. For Efes' side, Larkin was the only player that could be deemed as 'irreplaceable', so they had him against Fenerbahce. Fener also had Mahmutoglu, who is not that irreplaceable, but still, at least they retrained their depth of guards to some extent.

France, Greece, Italy

All those countries welcomed the players, who don't have a big role in their clubs.

Paul Lacombe (ASVEL) joined France and finished the game against Montenegro with 9 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 14 EFF.

Greece has Vassilis Kavvadas, Leonidas Kaselakis (both from Panathinaikos), and Michalis Lountzis from Olympiacos. However, Kaselakis will only be playing in his team's second qualifying game, against Belarus in Thessaloniki on Sunday evening, as he saw significant playing time in PAO's EuroLeague game vs Zenit on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Davide Alviti (AX Armani Exchange Milan) is the only EuroLeague representative in the Italian national team. In the game against Russia, he spent 10 minutes on the floor and accumulated 6 points, 1 rebound, and 4 PIR.

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2022-01-10
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