Anton Ponomarev hopes unity leads to continued "Kazakh way" in next windows
ASTANA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) - Kazakhstan survived two battles in the first window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers and head into two tough games next month. Anton Ponomarev hopes the team can maintain its strong unity and continue what he calls the Kazakh way.
Kazakstan knocked off Qatar on the road in the first Qualifier in November and then prevailed in an overtime thriller at home with Iraq to top Group D with a 2-0 victory.
"The road victory was vitally important," Ponomarev said. "That performance gave us much-needed confidence, especially after disaster Asian Cup in Lebanon."
Kazakhstan crashed out of the FIBA Asia Cup 2017 with three losses - and an average losing margin of 34.7 points.
"After the victory in Doha, we all realize it's time to come back to the Asian basketball elite, finally," Ponomarev said.
After averaging 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds at FIBA Asia Cup 2017, Ponomarev's numbers jumped in the Qualifiers to a team-high 19.5 points and 7.0 rebounds.
"I think the AsiaCup games were like a nightmare for all of us. I guess we all made one big mistake: we came to Lebanon unprepared and unaware of the current situation in Asian basketball. And we were punished," Ponomarev said.
"Now we see the picture more clearly. Management made much-needed changes and now we brought back our roles. No more fantasies, just specific roles and obligations on the court. I think the coach gave me extra confidence by using my certain skill set."
Now the 29-year-old Ponomarev wants to build upon those November games in the next Asian Qualifiers with Kazakhstan hosting Iran and Qatar on February 21 and February 24, respectively.
"We showed unity both times - in the second half in Doha and the second half in Astana," Ponomarev said about what the team learned from November. "We did not give in, we were united and we fought for each other. I am looking to continue the same way, Kazakh way."
Ponomarev, who plays his club ball for BK Astanta in Kazakhstan, says the up-coming game against Iran is the biggest of Group D.
"It is the most crucial and most difficult game in the first round. It's a must win - we have huge pressure on our shoulders. There is nothing else to say about it," said Ponomarev, who has been playing for Kazakhstan since 2005.
And the Kostanay native really appreciates the new Competition System and the chance it provides to play games at home.
We showed unity both times - in the second half in Doha and the second half in Astana. We did not give in, we were united and we fought for each other. I am looking to continue the same way, Kazakh way." Anton Ponomarev
"It is a great chance for countries like Kazakhstan since we never had a chance to host an AsiaCup," he said. "It's an amazing feeling to have a chance to represent your team at home. It's definitely something new, but I am sure this change is for a better international basketball. It's a huge step for a basketball development."
Ponomarev also hopes the current run in the Asian Qualifiers continues and Kazakhstan can finally book their first ticket to the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
"It would mean that basketball has a big place in Kazakhstan and basketball has a bright future in our country," he said.
"The 2-0 record means a lot to us because we have proven to ourselves that we are basketball players, that we can play and that we can win. Now it's high time to show everyone that Kazakhstan's basketball success is not luck."