Croatia Basketball in Crisis, New Coach Veljko Mršić Presents Revival Plan

Daniela Rogulj

Veljko Mršić was presented as the 13th Croatia men’s basketball team coach on Friday and expressed that his primary task will be to compete at the European Championship in 2021.

“I am ambitious, I have faith in myself and faith in Croatian basketball,” said 48-year-old Veljko Mršić, who was presented on Friday in Zagreb as the 13th coach of the Croatia men’s national basketball team, reports on May 3, 2019. 

Mršić was named as the new coach by the Board of Directors of the Croatian Basketball Federation the day before. At the same session, the Federation dismissed the former coach, Dražen Anzulović, under whose leadership the team failed to advance to the World Cup in China this year. Mršić is the fourth coach in the mandate of the current Federation, after Aleksandar Petrović, Ivica Skelina, and Anzulović.

“I would like to wish Veljko a lot of luck, lots of good games, lots of victories in the upcoming program that is expected this summer and, of course, the beginning of qualifications for the European Championship,” said HKS president Stojko Vranković.

“I thank the leaders of the Federation for their trust. I am happy with this election, and I can hardly wait for everything to start so that I can try to do the most that can be done,” said Veljko Mršić, Vranković’s former teammate on the Croatia national team who, after a rich and successful career as a player, built his name in the coaching world on the benches of Split, Varese, Cibona, Cedevita and Bilbao.

Mršić comes off a comfortable position as Cedevita’s sports director and takes on a team of players who have never ranked so low; missing the World Cup in China this year thanks to defeats from teams without a basketball pedigree, like the Netherlands and Romania.

“I am ambitious; I have faith in myself and faith in Croatian basketball. It’s easiest to swing the tail and go. Basketball has given us everything; we are what we are because we played in Croatia, because of what we did here. It has given us a lot and we need to give back,” Mršić explained of his decision to take over the national team.

Mršić’s first moves will be talking to potential candidates for the team and building his professional staff.

“We will call those who are the best at a given moment and who are ready to help the team achieve the goals we have set up. We have to create a team, choose players who can handle it by basketball skills and psychophysical traits, bring those who are ready to service the team. It’s not easy to play on a team if the team changes from action to action during qualifications. We need to build a base, 15 to 20 players with those in the NBA league, to create a team that will play together, who will know and try to achieve the minimum goals we set.”

According to social network reactions, Mršić’s appointment as the coach was welcomed with a lot of approval.

“I am very happy; it means a lot to me. I will try to justify the trust that the leaders have of me and what the public is expecting of me. I have faith, I have the experience, I’ve had a lot of it already in the last ten years, and this should be justified.”

“I’ve known him for a long time, since his playing days to when he joined the national team as a youngster. I know his character and work habits. From a pleasant and easygoing life in basketball, he has accepted this great challenge, where the situation is not good. I want to tell him that we will only achieve the goal with good work and victories,” said Stojko Vranković who, along with Dina Rađa, is most satisfied with the fact that the Croatia national team will get a chance to play at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas this year.

Mršić has yet to speak of potential candidates, although it is clear that Croatia will play in Las Vegas without their best players – those from the NBA.

“We will try to make the best possible selection at that time. This is a great opportunity to promote our basketball. This is an opportunity to prepare for two weeks for a ten-day tournament and set an outline. That’s why it would be good for us to have seven to eight players who will be in the qualifications and that’s my goal. We will try and make our NBA players come to be part of the national team. It would be good to start creating a positive atmosphere around and in the team,” Mršić said and added that clubs would play a key role in national team selection.

Unlike the senior team, Croatia’s cadets are the champions of Europe, and the U20 team won the silver. Will Mršić’s list include Croatia’s young talents?

“During my coaching career, I gave a chance to young players. We have to work for a qualifying team that can deliver the result right now, but there will certainly be places for two or three young players at EuroBasket 2021. The idea is, which is both mine and the people in the Federation, to encourage the younger players who are potentially being promoted, to push them, to get along with the older ones. Certainly, there are a lot of players who can play against the Netherlands, Romania and similar teams, but we have to find 10-15 who will play in the future against Lithuania, France, Spain and who can be given such games.”

Mršić says that the selection of the national team will be very strenuous.

“With basketball skills, psychophysical traits are critical. Already at these first gatherings, we will have people in the staff who will be testing the players, so that we know the personality traits of each player and who we are going to work with.”

In addition to the NBA Summer League, the Croatia national team will participate in the tournament in China this August, which will be the last check for the teams competing in the World Cup, as well as an opportunity for Croatia to warm up for the EuroBasket 2021 qualifiers that will commence in November this year. 

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