The year 2018 was the year of qualification for the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019 in Serbia and Latvia. Ukraine passed through the qualification tournament and took second place in its group right after reigning European champions Spain. The Ukrainian team qualified for the tournament for the fourth time, and for the first time under coach Goran Boskovic from Montenegro.
Just the qualification is not enough for both the coach and the team. Ukraine will face Britain, Spain and hosts Latvia in Riga. We talked to head coach Goran Boskovic about the outgoing year and the Women's EuroBasket 2019.
Question: Last year brought new experience for you as coach of the national team? Did you like it?
Answer: Yes, it was my first experience as head coach of the national team. Frankly, I liked it, it was an interesting journey, great experience for me, so I am thankful for this experience last year. I am thankful for our team and the Basketball Federation, which gave me such an opportunity.
Q: Can you confirm that the past year was successful for our national team?
A: I think yes, for sure. We came where the Ukrainian national team belongs – among the best 16 teams in Europe. It was our goal for qualification, and we achieved it.
Q: The goal was to qualify for the Women's EuroBasket 2019. The team achieved it, but not all teams from the second рlace will go for the tournament. Were there any fears or worries about the second рlace, especially after a home loss to Spain?
A: No worries at all. Since the beginning, our strategy was to build a huge goal difference in our group. So we knew that this would help us at the end of the tournament [only the eight group winners and the six best-ranked second-placed teams could qualify for the tournament]. When you are playing in the same grope with Spain, you have to think about everything. According to the game in Kyiv, it was really close and we were in the game till the last seconds. I hope the fans who came to that game will remember that suspense for a long time.
Q: Is our opponent Spain at the Women's EuroBasket 2019 unbeatable so far for other European teams?
A: Nobody doubts that Spain is the best team in Europe. At the last championship, they beat everybody, including Ukraine, with the score difference of more than 15 points in each game. They played together with the same coach for a long time, so beating them might be a difficult task for everybody.
Q: We talked just about the reigning champions, but not about other opponents. We lost to Latvia last summer in friendly games.
A: Of course, Latvia is a very strong team that finished sixth at the last championship. Now they are hosts and have great expectations from this EuroBasket. This summer they were preparing for the world championship, and we came with a very young team so they beat us, but let's see what happens next year.
Q: The Women's EuroBasket 2019 is a short tournament. It's pretty different from the qualification, as actually everything could be solved for us in the first two days (games with Spain and Latvia).
A: Maybe yes, maybe not. I don't think on that way.
Q: Looking at the qualification and the Women's EuroBasket 2017, it seems that our team depends on Alina Yagupova. She plays almost without rotation. She has the best performance in terms of rebounds and points scored. What could you tell about her role in the national team?
A: There's no doubt that Alina Yagupova is a top-class player in the whole of Europe. She is very crucial for our team. I expect from her not only her best basketball. She can play and also make teammates better, like all great players of the past years did. So she could become a true leader.
Q: You said in a comment to the website of the Ukrainian Basketball Federation (fbu.ua): "I prefer playing in Serbia because of many reasons." Could you explain a couple of these reasons? [The group stage of the Women's EuroBasket 2019 will take place in two countries co-hosting the tournament – Serbia and Latvia. Group A matches with Ukraine will be held in Riga]
A: When you just cross Serbia's border, you see a sign "Welcome to Serbia - the land of basketball," so it is one of the reasons. I played there for years, a big part of my basketball family is there, and my daughter lives in Serbia. I found it might be easier for preparation if we play there, etc.
Q: Why has basketball become so popular on the Balkan Peninsula? Especially in the former Yugoslav republics?
A: That is true that basketball is very popular in all Balkan countries. I think this is because of the physical abilities of the "Yugoslavian" people. For example, if we talk about the average height of the population, one of the tallest peoples on the planet lives here. No less important is the great desire to compete, it is instilled in us from early ages, and it is very important for basketball.
Q: Working with the Ukrainians, have you noticed some mental differences with Montenegrins?
A: Not so many differences, women like women everywhere.
Q: What is the biggest difference between women and men basketball for you? Athleticism? Speed? Emotions?
A: The women and men basketball is the same sport, it has the same rules and the same background, but there are many differences. I think athleticism and speed are crucial. They make a real difference in the way of playing.
Q: Do people at home ask you about Ukraine, about life here, and about the latest events with martial law?
A: Oh yes, they ask, they are interested. Many Ukrainians come usually to Montenegro during the summer. People here understand the situation in Ukraine better because of the Yugoslavia war at the beginning of the 1990s. Many people here felt that war on themselves, so everybody hopes the situation will be calm and there will be no more victims.
Q: What are your expectations for the upcoming year?
A: I am still making the list. I have time until the 31st of December!
Q: According to the Chinese zodiac, the year 2018 was your year. Do you believe in horoscopes?
A: Really my year? If I knew that before! Why did not you tell me? I wouldn't sacrifice so much and work too much! No, unfortunately, I don't believe in horoscopes, but anyway I wish to all people who believe in horoscopes and who don't the success in the upcoming year!
Q: Good luck for you too!
Hryhoriy Paliy, Kyiv