In their incredibly short 5 years history Prometey Slobozhanske has managed to become symbolic of the fighting spirit of Ukraine. The war has forced them to move to neighbouring Latvia but certainly has not prevented them from winning Group A in EuroCup. Coach Ronen Ginzburg talks to Future Stars about the incredible journey with a team which has not only successfully competed in Europe but also demonstrates the incredible vitality and survival spirit of the Ukrainian nation.
You have come to a very unusual project at Prometey in a politically and historically very turbulent time yet against all odds you have won Group A in EuroCup. What are your thoughts about the season so far especially your European achievements?
I came here 2 years ago in the middle of the season, and we took Champions League by surprise. Then last year the war stopped us. Everyone thought that this club is finished, but our president Volodymyr Dubinskyi surprised everyone, and he has decided to show everyone that Ukraine continues to functioning. Initially Dubinskyi decided that all money should go to the army but then he has changed his mind and he supports both sport and war efforts sending money to army and the hospitals. It was important that our club including our volleyball section shows that life goes on even in the most difficult times. Of course, we had to move the team to Latvia, which was not easy for administrative reasons. It was not easy to bring all players here because of the Latvian rules. Our goal was to succeed and play well and at this moment we believe and are very satisfied.
How difficult is it to run a team which is removed from their original country and effectively detached from their home and fan base?
From a technical point of view, it’s not difficult. It a nice arena and nice sporting complex to practice. The problem is that you don’t have fans for most of the time. Sometimes, the president brings our fans from Ukraine. One time he flew them to Venice, some other trips took them 48 hours by bus. But now when we are more successful, we are getting more Latvian people and of course Ukrainian refugees who live in Latvia start coming to the games. But we have still situations when we are playing great games in front of 1000 people. Otherwise, we manage ok. Of course, I understand how the situation affects our Ukrainian players. I made it very clear and always tell them that if the situation at home at home stresses them too much they should take time off. If they cant focus on practice then they should not practice. However, when they on the court they must act professionally and work hard and give 100 percent. The situation is very difficult, they may have their wife and children with them but the rest of the family stays in Ukraine. It’s not easy for them.
Well there is precedent for a situation where a team plays their home games abroad. Jugoplastika Split played their home games in Spain at the beginning of Yugoslavian war and won the European Cup that year. So maybe you can write a similar story?
I wish that could happen. We are still underdogs; we know our strengths, but we are aware of our weaknesses.
Do you think that for your Ukrainian nationals, playing for Prometey brings a sense of being ambassadors for their own country and showing that despite of the war they can bring joy and pride for their own people?
For sure. They bring their flag on their shoulders during the presentations. They feel very patriotic while they play both our team and their National Team. We are very proud and supportive of them. I tell them that if you come from Ukraine, you must be a fighter. In difficult times the fight is the only thing which you have.
How difficult was it to build such a successful team in such a short period of time?
For sure it wasn’t easy at the beginning, but we had a clear plan how the team should look. Sometimes you think that you have right people but that you find out that its not exactly like that. Then you have to analyse your strengths and weaknesses again and try to find new players to make sure that your rotation is 10 players not 7. We make constant adjustments, it is a process which never ends.
At the moment you have exceeded expectations so what are the goals for the rest of the season?
We are also pretty good in the Estonian Latvian league. In the Euro Cup the system is such that one single game can eliminate us from further competition. Play offs can be very cruel, look what has happened last year. Partizan and Joventut were leading their groups and lost in the first round of the Play Off. Now we know where we are in the Play Offs, and we want to go as far as we can but how I said one game can change everything. I like this system from the beginning. You can surprise everyone, in one game you can change everything.
Building very resilient teams from players who are not perceived as superstars seems to be your forte. You have done the same with Czech Republic National team leading them to 6th place in the World Championship and 9th at Olympic games in Tokyo. So, what is your recipe for building very coherent teams where all players are ready to support each other?
When I was young coach, I paid too much attention to purely basketball abilities and talent while not paying enough attention to the character of players. When I become older, I learned that sometimes I have to give up on a more talented player and bring one with slightly less quality but much more character. Of course, you can’t take all players with great character but no basketball quality. The key is to find a right mixture between both. I think we achieved it at Nymburk where on a relatively small budget we built a very successful team. On the technical side you need to find players who like your system and style of basketball. I like playing fast, high tempo game when player must think fast. I want aggressive defence and offensive rebounds to give us possession. Not every player can play like that. There is a lot of great players who prefer to go slower and have ball in their hands longer. With the National team it was easier for me because I had quite a few players from Nymburk who obviously knew the system and Tomas Satoransky and Jan Vesely when they joined they straight away both fit into this system very well. This is what gave this success. Another important factor was the fact that both Satoransky and Vesely and before them Lubos Barton are such humble people with the great character. Sometimes I see other National teams where players come from the NBA and are so aloof and not together. They always criticise something or complaining. We had completely different mentality it was completely different.
Do you think that you are close to building a similar chemistry at Prometey?
I hope so. We are not there yet but there is a lot of similarities. We brought here not necessary a the biggest names, but we managed to build a very dangerous team. Look how we dealt with injuries. We lost Caleb Agada for a long time, also Gian Clavell and we cover it with the chemistry, productivity and fight of the other players.
On top of that in the last game you have lost DJ Kennedy apparently till the end of the season. How are you going to deal with it?
It is very difficult. DJ was very important to us. We can’t bring another player. I will speak to the players, and we will try solve this problem. They must get together and produce what Kennedy was giving us. We must digest the situation and react quickly.
Many thanks and all the best with the rest of the season.