Slam Dunk for Poland?

The women in the national basketball team of Poland are set to go and defend the country’s honour in Latvia at EuroBasket 2009, the biennial European championships for ladies’ basketball teams. Poland is one of 16 countries to have qualified for the tournament, which the Polish ladies last won back in 1999. To reclaim that title, Poland has to trounce Turkey (who appear to be in great shape), defending champions Spain, hosts Latvia and outsider Belarus.

Although Poland is not a favourite for the title, “the main goal is to qualify for the top twelve,” according to head coach Krzysztof Koziorowicz. The first round of the tournament sees 16 teams divided into four groups, of which the best three of each group will advance. The twelve remaining teams battle it out in two groups of six teams each and the best four of those groups advance to the knockout quarter finals.

Poland’s main weapon is Agnieszka Bibrzycka. This forward from Mikołów is considered Europe’s best three-point shooter. At the EuroBasket in 2005 Bibrzycka had the second best scoring percentages and she is one of the very few Europeans to have managed to keep her head above water in the WNBA (the American league, female counterpart of the legendary NBA), playing for San Antonio. She currently plays at Russian-side Yekaterinburg, which has just been crowned league champions, with Bibrzycka as the team’s top scorer. The second best scorer in the Polish squad is Katarzyna Krężel, the only player from Krakow.

Bibrzycka, Krężel and their teammates have another special reason to claim this year’s title. The next EuroBasket in 2011 will take place in Poland and the Polish ladies would like to see the title coming home with them along with hosting the tournament. It would be the ideal boost for the team in the run-up towards the London 2012 Olympics. According to Koziorowicz: “The most important thing for us is the future. We have the European Championship for Women in 2011 in Poland and we need time to build the team and to have experienced players for the coming events. On the horizon, we can see the 2011 European Championship in Poland and the Olympic Games in London in 2012. Those are the main goals.”

Unfortunately, Poland drew some tough opponents. Although it did avoid defending champion Spain or another highly regarded team such as Croatia in the group stages, the “red and whites” still have to deal with hosts Latvia and the team to beat at the moment, Turkey. And Poland has every reason to be scared of the Turkish force. The Turks beat the Poles in the qualification series that led up to this tournament.

In the last week of May, Poland again met with Turkey at a friendly cup competition in Istanbul between four contestants of EuroBasket 2009. Again Turkey was too strong for Poland (87 – 71), but it also beat defending champions Spain, making the Turkish ladies the outspoken favourites for the title. Poland, however, has built some confidence with convincing wins over Belgium (101 – 63) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (91 – 45).

EuroBasket 2009 takes place in Latvia, from 7 until 20 June. Poland will have the opening game against Latvia on the first day of the tournament. In September the men’s version of EuroBasket will take place in Poland, with the men’s team automatically qualifying, as hosts of the tournament. Hopefully 2009 will truly become a “slam dunk” year for Polish basketball.

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