Israel may be sending its biggest delegation to the Olympics but they won’t be the only Sabras in Tokyo. Ronen (Neno) Ginzburg will be leading the Czech Republic National Basketball Team into Japan with a chance to shock the world as his squad will be in a group with the United States, France and Iran.
The 57-year old Tel Aviv native has been in charge of the European nation since 2013 and in fact has coached in the country beginning seven years prior to that starting as an assistant coach with Nymburk.
Ginzburg is no stranger to top of the line competitions with his team after having been to the 2019 World Championships in which he was able to navigate out of a tough group that included Turkey, Japan and the United States which he will once again face at the Olympic Games.
Along with the Americans, Ginzburg will also have to contend with the likes of France and Iran, however, the bench boss feels that he’s up to challenge, “Together with the United States we will go up against the Iranians,” Ginzburg said jokingly about the political situation. “But the truth is we have to defeat Iran or else we won’t have any chance of getting to the next level of the competition. Against the USA we need to get a decent result and against France we will need to win if we don’t want to get into the whole issue of point differential in order to advance to the next round.”
“We played against the United States in the 2019 World Championships and we lost by about 20 points and we played well. They have amazing tools to beat any team by a lot of points and the preparation for a team like that is less tactical because it’s very hard to stop them. They play simple basketball and we will have to play for the rebounds in order to stop their running game and fast breaks. On defense they don’t do anything special but they are so quick on their feet.”
France are no slouches either as they are 7th overall in the FIBA World Rankings and feature one of the globe’s best defenders in Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, Nicolas Batum from the Los Angeles Clippers and Fenerbahce’s Nando De Colo.
“France have top players who are in the NBA and the Euroleague. They are one of the top three teams in Europe and have been such for the past decade. But this is the Olympics and you will get a tough group no matter what. You have to stick to the basics and focus on rebounds and slowdown their ability to go on fast breaks.”
As for Iran, the question lingering over their coach will be if he will shake Ginzburg’s hand as is traditional for coaches to do before and after a game.
“That will be his problem if he doesn’t want to shake my hand but they are in the Zionist group with me and the Czech Republic along with the United States! However, once you aren’t competing under the Israeli flag it’s not such a big deal and that was also the case when David Blatt was with Russia head coach.”
Ginzburg’s playing career began in 1981 with Beitar Tel Aviv and remained with the club his entire career which ended in 1995. However, before retiring Ginzburg began coaching as an assistant in the youth leagues to get his feet wet for his post playing career that was to come.
In 2000, Ginzburg took over at Bnei Herzliya and continued on to Ramat HaSharon and Givat Shmuel before heading to Nymburk in 2006 as an assistant and eventually took over as the head coach from 2011-2017. Recently, he took over Prometey Kamianske in the Ukraine Super League and won the championship after taking over the reins late in the season.
“I didn’t think it would be the case that I would be gone so long. I began as Muli Katzurin’s assistant at Nymburk and when I left Israel I knew that I could take the chance to go abroad. I had nothing to lose and the worst case would be that I could always go back. I learnt so many different things and expanded my knowledge as a coach being outside of Israel. It was a great opportunity for a young coach like me at the time.”
Ginzburg, who has been in charge of the Czech team over the past 8 years has seen much success as he has brought the squad into the top-10 and is currently ranked 12th overall. The success is due to a few things he explained, “Right now we have a great generation of players that are modest and have a lot of character. They are fighters and battle against every team and won’t raise their hands to surrender to anyone. They all have the basics and will play without any ego and only for the success of the team. They are all positive under any circumstance or situation.”
In order to advance to the Tokyo Olympics, the Czech Republic and Ginzburg needed to get through a difficult qualification tournament in Victoria, British Columbia which included Greece, Turkey, Uruguay, China and the host nation of Canada, and they did so with flying colors. Knocking off Canada in a tough semifinal game and then overwhelming Greece in the final punched the Czechs ticket to Japan for the Games.
“We didn’t practice that much beforehand we came into the competition as an underdog. Against Canada, we were able to control the rebounds with our big men and when we were able to stop them from going on fast breaks they didn’t have the patience to play. Greece was more of a mental game and we did some things tactically but in the second half the pressure got to them and we were able to win.”
Veterans Tomas Satoransky of the Chicago Bulls and Jan Vesely from Fenerbahce are the leaders of the squad and bring not only a solid basketball base to the team but are also relied upon to help guide the team both on and off of the court.
“They are the leaders of the team and they are winners. They don’t want to lose and always play to win against the best as they will always look at the opponents in the white of their eyes.”
As a Jew and as an Israeli, Ginzburg knows that he is in a unique position working in another country which in itself presents its own challenges along the way but has embraced the opportunity.
“It means a lot. I feel that wherever I am I represent Israel even though I am the coach of the Czech Republic National Team as I am the Israeli that coaches them. It’s a huge honor to be Jewish in this role as well as I always want to do the best that I can as a coach and as a person being outside of Israel. It is something that I don’t hide. The players are all aware as well as the management and they understand that we are bit different.”