Jack Majewski speaks to Dardan Berisha of the Poland National team after their upset win over Turkey at the European Championships.
JM: Dardan, you have just won probably the most important game of your life. Even more importantly, you were a top scorer for the Polish team and the game was won by your shot which made Ersan Ilyasova look slightly dizzy. Plays and games like that very often start impressive international careers.
DB: I wouldn’t say that my last shot was so important. The game was won by the effort of the entire team. We have a group of people here who want to work for each other and are not afraid to scarify everything for the success of the team. We are here to start something really impressive in the history of Polish basketball.
JM: Indeed, Polish basketball needs a significant success to reignite interest in this sport in this country. Basketball somehow can’t follow the example of volleyball and handball where ,Polish national teams belong to a very narrow group of the world’s true powerhouses. Obviously media and sponsors follow this success leaving basketball neglected. Do you think that the current group of young players can change this trend?
DB: Of course yes. We have quite a big group of very young players who are not afraid of anyone in Europe. Today’s game showed that we can play like equals with any given team in Europe. There great chemistry here and we have a lot of self-belief. From the very beginning coach Ales Pipan was trying to convince us that we have enough talent to be very dangerous in this tournament.
JM: So what has changed since Ales Pipan took over the Polish national team? He had a particularly good record of introducing young players in Slovenia. He seems to be doing quite the same in Poland.
DB: Coach Pipan brought a group of young and relatively inexperienced on this level players to this tournament. Only three players remained from the Polish team which competed in Euro 2009.The rest of us are completely new to this level, but we are absolutely determined to make the most out of that. We will work together and I’m sure that was quite visible that we also have a great comradeship in this team. We don’t have superstars and everyone seems to be contributing to our success.
JM: Speaking of superstars, there is no Marcin Gortat here who had quite well publicised problems with finding the right insurance policy. Also Maciej Lampe was eliminated by a serious hip injury. There is a school of thoughts which say’s that perhaps you become a more cohesive unit since these two players are not playing here. Very quickly you have had to learn how to rely on people who are actually here.
DB: It is very difficult to say whether the fact that we are playing without Marcin Gortat makes us stronger or weaker. In Eurobasket 2009 we had everyone including Gortat, Lampe and David Logan and we didn’t win anything. We have a completely different team here and we are concentrating on our goals. We are one game away from qualifying to the next stage and that would very important for us. A lot of people were quite sceptical about our chances here, how wrong they were. We are here to do something really big
JM: You will play the Great Britain team tomorrow, whose backcourt is also very young and inexperienced. There is no question that it is the achilles heel of the GB team. Do you think that you, Koszarek and Thomas Kelati will be able to exploit this weakness?
DB: I really don’t see their backcourt as a particular weakness. We know that Luol Deng is a crucial figure in the GB team and we will have to deal with it accordingly. We have a lot of respect for their team and I’m sure that all of us need to work extremely hard to stop them. Against Turkey we proved that we can be very effective defensively against NBA players. Both Hedo Turkoglu and Omer Asik didn’t have an easily life tonight. The most important thing is to win tomorrow, and we are ready to scarify everything to achieve that.
JM: Future Stars is an organisation which deals with young players all over the world. You are still a very young player and very much at the beginning of your career but you play against a top world players without any signs of fear or hesitation. Even more importantly you want to challenge them constantly, such as when you scored directly from the inbound assisted by Turkoglu’s backside.
DB: I respect these great players tremendously but I certainly don’t fear them. Coach Pipan gave me this great chance to show my talent on the European stage and I’m absolutely determined to convince everyone that I really belong here. I have got no fears or reservations to play to my full potential. Having said that I’m very far from saying that I will try to be selfish on court, I will perform whatever role is required from me in order for us to be really successful here.
Photographs courtesy of Mansoor Ahmed Photography