Hatis Back: Armenian basketball team mark comeback with a Euro League win

In round two of the women’s basketball European League on Thursday, the Yerevan club Hatis beat Chevakata (Vologda, Russia) 103-99. This was the event Armenian basketball fans have waited for – for nearly 20 years.

Attending the game in a packed Mika hall, veteran basketball fans must have remembered full crowds that Soviet-era Hatis, then based in Abovyan, would attract. That legendary team included players not only from Armenia, but also from Russia and Ukraine. In 1989 Haits won the USSR Cup and that success in basketball was equal to Ararat’s victories in Soviet soccer competitions.

Hatis, brought to life again out of non-existence this year, started off ambitiously, with its players and Georgian-Armenian coach not concealing their desire to score victories rather than just take part in international games. They view progressing to the playoff stage of the Euro League as the minimum task for this season.

Active efforts to recruit players had been made for several months, resulting in a team that besides a few Armenian players also includes players from Serbia, Croatia, Georgia, Ukraine and even the United States and Jamaica. At the helm of Hatis is a Georgian-Armenian, Gia (Georgiy) Ghazanchian.

Specialists say that the financial crisis may have helped Hatis and the Armenian domestic championship to look more attractive for players from other European leagues. Some basketball teams in Europe have been disbanded over the past year because of financial difficulties caused by the global recession. An invitation to play in Armenia became a life-line and an opportunity to participate in a European club tournament for many of the recruited players.

The real heroine of the Thursday game against the Vologda team became Hatis captain Bojana Vulic, a 25-year-old (193cm) Serb. Besides being the top scorer in the Armenian team, she was the engine of the team as she encouraged and filled her teammates with confidence when at one point the Russians took over the initiative.

Immediately after the final whistle, Vulic, to the delight of numerous spectators and TV crews, staged a dance show, proving that besides being an excellent athlete, she is, too, a charming girl who loves dancing and making fun.

Hatis rivals in Group F are Sony Athinaikos (Greece), Besiktas (Turkey) and Chevakata. (In the first game last week the Armenian team lost to the Greeks in Athens). The games are played on a home-and-away basis. Hatis’s next rival is the Turkish team and the game will take place in Istanbul on November 26. The return games against the Greeks and Turks are in Yerevan on December 3 and 17, respectively. In-between, on December 10, Hatis will travel to Russia. The two top finishers will progress to the playoffs, as well as ten out of eleven teams finishing third in their groups. This means that the Yerevan club has a solid chance to qualify for playoffs to be played by the Continent’s best teams.