Veteran forward Ivan Ramljak chats about how things are looking for Slask Wroclaw this season.
Ivan Ramljak, Slask: 'Basketball is growing in Poland'
Slask Wroclaw is back in the 7DAYS EuroCup after 13 seasons away from the competition. It is part of a comeback at all levels, as Slask is trying to become the team to beat in Polish basketball while competing in the EuroCup. Though Slask has won 17 Polish League titles, it lifted that trophy for the last time in 2002.
This week Slask will play for the first possible trophy this season, the Polish Cup. Before that tournament begins, veteran forward Ivan Ramljak, who is in his second season with team, spoke about the rise of Polish basketball and his experience in a country where basketball has always been important and is now as popular as ever.
Ramljak and Slask come off a victory, their second in the EuroCup this season, over Turk Telekom Ankara 80-67. Ramljak said he believes his team's work over the last few months paid off in this game, which could be a turning point for the season.
"I think it was our best game on the offensive side, for sure. I don't know why, but we were playing really, really good in defense," said Ramljak. "We started the game really well, making shots, playing good defense and we just kept playing like that for 40 minutes and I think, at any moment in the game, I felt we were controlling everything on offense and defense for the whole game. And luckily for us, we won the game."
Slask was close to winning three road games, but fell against very good teams. It suffered an 86-83 loss against Boulogne Metropolitans 92 when it missed a shot at the buzzer to force overtime. Slask took its road game against Dolomiti Energia Trento to an extra period, but ended up losing 81-77. Most remarkably, Slask was close to beating Partizan NIS Belgrade in the Serbian capital. It led 70-73 with 20 seconds left but a couple of turnovers prevented the guests from capturing a prestigious win.
"It would have been nice to win some games on the road, especially because we lost three-four games in the last possessions, especially against Partizan in Belgrade," Ramljak recalled. "It was our toughest loss this season. We had the game in our hands and made two stupid mistakes in the end and lost the game. But in the EuroCup, I think that everybody can beat everybody. Of course, there are some favorites, better teams, but I think it is impossible for a team to win all games. So we just need to stay focused and try to win every game when we step on the court."
Slask is also getting great support at home. One of the reasons that made Ramljak want to come back to the team for a second season was to be able to play in front of the local fans.
"Last season, when I was here, it was difficult because of COVID. Everything was closed and we had to play in empty arenas. It was the first time in my life that I was playing in those conditions. I mean, it was for everybody like that. But this year, we have a lot of fans in our games, supporting us, so it's totally different. And always, whenever you are playing, if you are winning, people want to come to the game and support you," Ramljak said, before sending an optimistic message for Slask fans. "I'm not saying that we are going to win a championship, but I think that there is a pretty good chance that we win the Polish championship this season."
Slask underwent an early roster change when Andrej Urlep stepped in as head coach, replacing Petar Mijovic. Coach Urlep is in his fourth stint with Slask and was the last coach to win the Polish League with the team. A Polish basketball legend, Urlep won five Polish League crowns - four of them with Slask, the other with Anwil Wloclawek - and coached its national team. Ramljak believes that Coach Urlep needed some time to make things work, but has managed to do so and the team is ready to compete even harder.
"Urlep is old school, but for me, it's working. I can't say about any other player or people, but for me, it's working," Ramljak admitted. "We didn't start the season very well. We had some injured players, and after that, we lost two-three games in a row. They changed the coach, so we needed some time to settle, but now I think that we are looking much better than a few months ago."
Putting the city of Wroclaw back on the European basketball map is Slask's mission and having devoted fans definitely helps. The Polish national team made it to the 2019 World Cup quarterfinals and some of its best players, Maciej Lampe and Adam Waczynski, lifted the EuroCup trophy in recent years.
"Basketball is really important here because they have history. They won a lot of championships before and now they want to get back on this track, to fight to win championships and play at a high level. I think we are on a good way. Until the end of the season, we are going game again game, staying focused, Ramljak said.
"When I talk to Polish players and people, they are saying that basketball is growing in Poland, it's going up: the national team, the clubs and everything. There are a lot of good things in Polish basketball and we have really good fans, which is nice. It is always better to play when the gym is full."
Ramljak played four EuroCup seasons with Cedevita Zagreb before the club merged with Olimpija Ljubljana becoming Cedevita Olimpija. He said that he believes the new format has made the competition stronger and the knock-out rounds could bring a lot of excitement to anyone following the EuroCup.
"The EuroCup is much more difficult than it was before because you play against more teams, home and away. They wanted to make a competition more similar to the EuroLeague. And now, in this kind of competition, I think everybody has a chance to win because you play only one game in each playoff round," he said. "And in one game, anything can happen."