Tomas Satoransky's success with Wizards is a source of pride for Czech hockey players, ambassador in Washington

Chase Hughes
NBC Sports Washington

Tomas Satoransky's success with Wizards is a source of pride for Czech hockey players, ambassador in Washington originally appeared on nbcsportswashington.com

The odds of making the NBA were never going to be in Tomas Satoransky's favor. Only three men from the Czech Republic had made the league before him. None lasted more than four years.

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In the Czech Republic, a country of 10.6 million people, it is far more common to play ice hockey, soccer or handball. There is even floorball, which is basically hockey and handball mixed together. Tennis is also popular with two of the sport's all-time greats, Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl, hailing from the country.

Basketball, not so much. So, although he was "lucky" to have a basketball hoop around the corner from his childhood home in Prague, Satoransky wasn't always able to play. It was a multi-purpose court, also used for volleyball, handball and tennis.

He often had to wait patiently for his turn, the lanky kid dribbling a ball off to the side.

"I would have to be lucky to be there when no one rented the court," he told NBC Sports Washington.

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Satoransky, though, managed to join organized basketball at an early age, get a growth spurt to reach 6-foot-7 and become a second-round pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Now, he is the only active Czech-born NBA player and well on his way to being the best to ever come from his country.

Satoransky, in fact, may already hold that distinction. His 1,124 career NBA points are second only to former first round pick Jiri Welsch, and Satoransky should surpass him sometime next season. He already has the most assists.

Satoransky has also emerged as a star on what is probably the best Czech national basketball team in history. For the first time, they are set to participate in the FIBA World Cup this August in China.

Although he has yet to check off all of his country's basketball milestones, there are some who believe he is already the G.O.A.T.

"Tomas is the fourth player of Czech origin that ever made it to the NBA and by far the most successful of all four," Hynek Kmonicek, Czech Ambassador to the United States, said. "He is obviously one of the best models of what you can achieve in our country."

Satoransky's basketball achievements have become a source of pride for many Czechs, including some athletes who have far bigger names back home due to the sports they play. Ice hockey is king with a long history of players from the Czech Republic thriving in the NHL.

Czechs can boast legends like Jaromir Jagr, Domenik Hasek and Stan Mikita. While there is only one Czech-born NBA player, there are 43 currently in the NHL. The four Czech players in NBA history can be compared to 313 in hockey.

Even those who don't make All Star teams have become household names. Satoransky said Capitals wing Jakub Vrana is now a celebrity in Prague after winning a ring in 2018.

The Caps have three total Czech players, including Michal Kempny, a member of the Cup-winning team, and Dmitrij Jaskin, who joined the Caps in the offseason on a free agent deal.

As busy as they are with their own regular season schedule, the Czech players on the Caps have noticed Satoransky's success this season.

"It's nice to see a Czech boy step up and show his skills," Vrana said. "He can show that somebody from the Czech Republic can actually play in the NBA and play really good as he's been doing lately. He's iconic for those young basketball players down in Czech, which is important."

Vrana has clearly been following the Wizards this season. He brought up how John Wall's injury paved the way for Satoransky to play more. But, having never played organized basketball growing up in Prague, Vrana first referred to Satoransky getting more "ice time" before correcting himself.

Jaskin has a unique connection to Satoransky. They went to the same high school in Prague, called Gymnazium Pripotocni. Satoransky is two years older and was unaware he went to school with Jaskin until he was interviewed for this story.

Jaskin, though, knew of Satoransky while growing up.

"I heard that he played. They always talk about talents in Czech," Jaskin said. "There aren't that many of them. So, you always hear about them playing whatever sport it is."

Satoransky doesn't know any of the Caps players very well personally, though he is an avid hockey fan. It's not that uncommon he will know who they played last and where they are in the standings. He has attended NHL games in Washington and on the road during Wizards off-days.

And he did get to know Vrana, Kempny and their teammate Andre Burakovsky late one night last summer. Vrana was on his personal tour with the Stanley Cup trophy through a series of clubs in Prague, and he invited Satoransky and his friends to join the party.

Of course, Satoransky couldn't pass up the opportunity.

"He was texting me like, 'Congratulations on winning the Stanley Cup. It's great for the city,'" Vrana explained.

"I was like, ‘Yeah, man. You play for the Wizards, right? You are from the Czech Republic, only Czech guy in the NBA. You should come to my party and hang out. It's fine, and it's cool.' He's a nice guy."

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Proud Czech 🇨🇿 #100years

A post shared by Tomas Satoransky (@tomasatoransky) on Oct 28, 2018 at 11:30am PDT

Vrana became famous for his celebration of winning the Stanley Cup, which was all documented on social media. He stood out on a team that partied harder than any that came before it, and that wasn't easy to do. He got after it like a loose puck in open ice.

"I had three months after that, so why not? I was just celebrating hard," Vrana said.

Satoransky happened to cross paths with Vrana's worldwide bender and enjoyed his time with Lord Stanley. He drank champagne out of the Cup as Vrana's friends teamed up to hold it for him.

"It was definitely a privilege to be there," Satoransky said.

Satoransky also noticed the rest of Vrana's exploits. Much like how Vrana and Jaskin view his success in the NBA, he was proud to watch one of his countrymen have time in the spotlight.

"I would be the same. We are Czechs. We like to celebrate when we win something," Satoransky said.

"Obviously, there is a drinking culture, so why not? He proved to be Czech."

Czech athletes have become synonymous with success in the NHL, and for properly celebrating. Satoransky in some ways is charting a new path, already as arguably the best Czech basketball player of all-time.

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