January 14, 2023 | 5:32pm
MANILA, Philippines – After a breakout game in the European North Basketball League last Wednesday, the undefeated BC Wolves and Juan Gomez de Liaño take on a team coached by an NBA champion. The new Lithuanian squad travels to Gdansk, Poland to play Trefl Sopot at the Sopot Centennial Hall at 2 a.m., Philippine time. The Wolves are coached by 1988 Seoul Olympics gold medalist Rimas Kurtinaitis, while Trefl Sopot is coached by Croatian NBA champion Zan Tabak.
The seven-foot Tabak won an NBA championship with the Houston Rockets in 1995, teaming up with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler in the second title run of a back-to-back. Later, as Rik Smits’ back-up on the Indiana Pacers, he became the first international player to make it to the NBA Finals with two different teams in 2000. He had also played for the Toronto Raptors in between. He left the NBA at age 31 to contribute to European basketball both as a player, and later as a coach.
Croatia was once part of Yugoslavia, but formally left the communist state in 1991. The following year, they qualified for the Barcelona Olympics with Tabak and European superstars Drazen Petrovic and Dino Radja. Tabak and Radja had already been drafted into the NBA, but were ordered to return to Croatia. Kurtinaitis, for his part, had won the Olympic gold medal in 1988, playing for the USSR with Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis, and later earned a silver for Lithuania against the US Dream Team four years later. That squad was the subject or a documentary entitled “The Other Dream Team” in 2012.
Meanwhile, Filipinos living in Poland are organizing support for Gomez de Liaño and the Wolves’ game there. The Facebook page “Pinoys InPoland” based in Warsaw with more than 6,700 followers, posted this notice in Filipino on Friday:
“Countrymen, let us support Juan Gomez de Liaño and the BC Wolves in their game at Sopot Centennial Hall on the 17th of January against Trefl Sopot! Watch the game live in Sopot, Poland and get a chance to meet the Wolves players after the game for some photo ops and autographs!”
The BC Wolves have a 2-0 win-loss record, while Trefl Sopot has two wins and two losses in Group B of the ENBL as of this writing.
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