Captain Poladkhanli ready to write another chapter of history for Azerbaijan
14 Endar Poladkhanli (AZE) — Andorra v Azerbaijan, FIBA U18 European Championship Division C, Serravalle — Arena Domus (San Marino), Final, 15 July 2016
BAKU (FIBA U20 European Championship 2017, Division B) — Endar Poladkhanli will play his part in writing another chapter of history for Azerbaijan basketball as the talented forward will lead the country into their first appearance at the FIBA U20 European Championship Division B since 2008.
Poladkhanli spent the last two summers becoming a hero in the annals of Azerbaijan basketball, reaching the Final of the FIBA U18 European Championship 2015, Division C and winning the respective title a year later.
«It means a lot. It was really important to win it. In Azerbaijan sports no youth team won any European title. We were the first who could do it. We wrote history for Azerbaijan sports. It was really unbelievable,» said Poladkhanli, who was named the 2016 Division C MVP.
«No one in Division B knows our team. I think that could help us a little bit. We are new to this division. We have never played against teams like Russia, Great Britain. We could be pretty good.»Endar Poladkhanli
After two summers at the U18 level, next up for Poladkhanli is the FIBA U20 European Championship 2017, Division B. And the Baku native believes the eastern Europeans have a chance to surprise people.
«No one in Division B knows our team,» the 6ft 6in (1.98m) forward Poladkhanli said. «I think that could help us a little bit. We are new to this division. We have never played against teams like Russia, Great Britain. We could be pretty good.»
When asked about the team’s goal, Poladkhanli said: «Our goal is to reach the top ten. In our team, we have a lot of young guys from 1998 and 1999. So, this year our goal is the top ten. And then for next year we’ll see.»
Poladkhanli believes Azerbaijan basketball is on the rise, especially since 2012 when the country nearly qualified for FIBA EuroBasket 2013.
«After 2013, there were no young guys to continue the push. Our national team was all old men at the end of their career. So everything started from zero after 2013. Now it’s a pretty good level,» Poladkhanli said. «We started at the bottom but we need a little bit of time. Maybe in five years we will have a very, very good men's team.»
Poladkhanli himself started in the game when he was 6-years-old when his mother, former Azerbaijan national team captain Yelena Ustinova, brought him to practice.
He grew up enjoying the shooting style of two-time NBA champion Ray Allen. And Poladkhanli made a name for himself when he was selected to the FIBA European U18 All-Star Game 2015 after his impressive showing at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2015, Division C.
Poladkhanli will be leading his Azerbaijan teammates in Romania as captain.
«I am proud of being the captain of the national team of my country. I will give all I have for my guys, motivational speeches and everything,» he said.
One thing is certain, the Azerbaijan players will not be intimidated.
«It's really exciting, but none of our guys are scared of them — like 'oh my god, it's Russia' and are worried how we will play against them. We are ready to fight for the best position we can.»
And write another chapter of history.