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Basketball - 03. September 2012.

CRO - Olympia Vrsaljko has bright future with national team

SALAMANCA (EuroBasket Women/FIBA World Championship for Women) – There is no way to overstate the importance of what making it to the London Games will have meant to women’s basketball in Croatia.

The men’s game in the country has a rich history, with Croatia the homeland of many a great player, including the late Drazen Petrovic.

Croatia’s men’s teams have played at Olympics and World Championships over the years, but in 2012 it was the women who flew the flag for the proud hoops nation at the Summer Games.

They won the support of all neutral fans with an unexpected and terrific run to fifth place at the EuroBasket Women in Poland last year, and followed that up by claiming one of the five spots on offer for London at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Women (OQTW) in Ankara.

Once at the Olympics, Croatia only managed to beat Angola, yet the team coached by Stipe Bralic did give eventual champions USA, and the Czech Republic, a run for their money before fading in the fourth quarter of those games.

Turkey also only just managed to overcome Croatia, 70-65.

The experience of taking part in such high level tournaments as the OQTW and the London Games will only make Croatia stronger.

Burgeoning star Marija Vrsaljko, 23, is among those who will have benefited.

She will have a prominent role for Perfumerias Avenida in Spain this season and then have a significant part to play next year for Croatia when they compete at the EuroBasket Women in France – the qualifying tournament for the 2014 FIBA World Championship for Women in Turkey.

"It's a wonderful feeling to play at the Olympics for the first time,” she said, “and to start the competition against Team USA made it all the more special.

“We were very happy with our performance (against the Americans) and how we played.

"The USA are the best. They are very good.”

Sometimes, a team has to take the positives out of defeats.

The Croatians were able to do that after the loss to the USA.

“It was very special to play against Diana Taurasi, one of the players I look up to,” Vrsaljko said.

“I think we showed a lot of confidence in that game.”

Often, the best way to assess the quality of a player is to ask an opponent about her.

The player she had to contend with for many of the 19 minutes she was on the floor against the Americans was Tina Charles.

Vrsaljko didn’t look out of place at all when going up against Charles and the USA, one of the fiercest competitors in the game, pouring in 19 points.

"She really hurt us under the post,” Charles said.

“She was eight of 11 from the floor and she made life difficult for us."

Charles already knew about Vrsaljko because the two are players in the EuroLeague Women, the competition both will play in this year.

Vrsaljko has left Gospic, Croatia, and gone abroad for the first time to play for Perfumerias Avenida in Salamanca, Spain.

She will continue to develop and should be one of the best pivots at next year’s EuroBasket when the Croatians try to reach the World Championship.

“I'm happy that I will be playing for Salamanca (Perfumerias),” she said.

“I did well in Croatia but I think the right time has come to go abroad and play.”


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