A gold medal 20 years ago: ItalBasket, 1999

Author Marco Capone contributor
Amount of Images 0 Immagini
Calendar 02/09/2019
Time passed Tempo di lettura 7 min

The eighteenth basketball world cup started in China on Saturday: my mind rushed back to the national team that made history for Italian basketball. France, 1999 Eurobasket.


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In sports there are victories that become legendary, mythical, fairy-tale-like. And that was the case for Italbasket twenty years ago: the final against Spain under coach Tanjevic moves Italians to this day – and will continue to do so.

«Get out there and crush them»
Coach Tanjevic in the changing rooms before the final against Spain.

Bogdan Tanjevic was appointed coach for Italy after Ettore Messina left. Tanjevic had won a lot, but wanted to win again: he could be the right man. And he was. A “family” team, a wise “father” coach.


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Everyone was surprised when Pozzecco was excluded, having played wonderfully for Varese all season long up until a few weeks before the team left for France: this coach was not like others. In the weeks before he assembled his final squad, he asked Bonora and Pozzecco (who were rivals) to stay in the same room. They didn’t like each other off the court either, and in fact Pozzecco refused; but in the end he had to accept his coach’s decision.“We stayed in there until six in the morning, talking about stuff” Pozzecco said.

«You are not a Euro-level player.»

Despite the happy ending in this story, Tanjevic ended up excluding “Poz”: “You are not a Euro-level player,” he told him. He claimed that some players were greater in the team’s hierarchies. But Pozzecco actually agreed, having declared that there were no premises for moving forward in the relationship. And so the hero of Varese’s championship was excluded.

Everyone remembers the disappointing debut: a 68-70 loss against Toni Kucoc’s Croatia. The Croatian stars played great, and Myers didn’t trust his teammates, so he played the whole game alone. Italy lost, Myers being the main culprit. This bitter debut made Carlton realize he had to work on team building: this is a sport where you don’t win alone.

Carlton affectionately embraces Andrea Meneghin. That will be an important gesture.

Then came the difficult match, in Antibes, against Bosnia, won almost at the ast second and with great emotional strain. The risk of being kicked out probably made coach Tanjevic’s team understand that it was necessary to put more effort into it, that a change in pace was necessary. Immediately. Carlton affectionately embraced Andrea Meneghin at the end of the game, recognizing him as a leader. That turned out to be an important gesture, because Myers began to trust the group and that proved fundamental.

A 64-61 victory against Turkey got the Azzurri through to the second qualifying round, played at Le Mans against the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Germany, where a young Nowitzki played. It was at this stage that Carlton Myers started averaging 20 points per game, making millions of Italians stick to the TV. But Tanjevic’s group grew chorally, so much so that Fucka, Jack Galanda and Meneghin followed suit.


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And we should not forget DePol’s determination, Basile’s points, the Marconato-Chiacig couple, “Picchio” Abbio’s triples, the gregarious Bonora, Mian and Damiao. Confidence grew and they played the quarter-finals in Paris, flattening Russia 102-79. The five Azzurri defended wonderfully, and became deadly with counterattacks. We were all on the verge of our sofas, and each time they dunked everything became sweeter. The victory secured a place for Sydney 2000, which was not a small thing since Italbasket had been missing from the Olympic Games for some time.

«And he dunks! Gianluca Basile»
Flavio Tranquillo, Telepiù commentator.

When on 2 July we met Yugoslavia in the semifinals (they had always been a problem for us), the whole country stopped. The game was too important, the stakes too high. Needless to say, bookmakers were all for Zelimir Obradovic’s team, which had an impressive lineup with the talented Bodiroga, Danilovic, Divac and Stojakovic. An early final, everyone thought.

Italy managed to resist their comeback thanks to a wonderful triple by Abbio. Fucka, a Slovenian by birth, played beautifully well and became an idol for thousands of kids along with the legendary Carlton Myers.

16 years after Nantes, Spain were once again on the court to contend for gold.

In the final, the past came up again: sixteen years after Nantes, from one Meneghin to another, Spain was once again on the court to fight for a gold medal. The Azzurri tolead and reached +21; Spain tried a desperate comeback – but it was too late.

We were European champions, and Carlton Myers man of the match with 18 points scored in the final. The rest is history: Andrea Meneghin embracing his father, the legendary Dino Meneghin, Italy’s team manager; Fucka, having played magnificently, mvp of the tournament.

An almost unbeatable team, a united group. There was something magical about that team, something more than just a sporting aggregation: great compactness and, above all, an incredible desire to win. For the country, for themselves. A dream they wanted to come true, a medal to wear around your neck. This was the engine of everything, this was what made the French Eurobasket something rare.


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«If I had been there, we would have won anyway. Even more easily.»
Gianmarco Pozzecco’s irony.

And so, we can only hope things go just as well for Sacchetti’s team: the Azzurri seem very close-knit – with a bit of luck we could go really far.

Cover photo by Guido Harari/Contrasto

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