|21 March 2012|
|Center Nikola Pekovic, who is having a great season in the NBA with the Timberwolves, is 'the engine of Montenegro's national team,' says Milko Bjelica|
By Jeff Taylor
There have been some encouraging signs of late that Montenegro will be able to forget about last summer's disappointing run at the EuroBasket and make it back to the Final Round when the tournament is held in Slovenia next year.
Everywhere you look, a Montenegrin is making headlines.
In the NBA, there are two.
In Minnesota, Nikola Pekovic, a former Partizan Belgrade and Panathinaikos center, has gotten a chance to play big minutes under coach Rick Adelman this season and is averaging 13.5 points and 7.4 rebounds.
In Philadelphia, rookie Nikola Vucevic has cemented his role as a key player coming off the bench for coach Doug Collins.
Both could end up getting a taste of play-off basketball, especially Vucevic because the Sixers are fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 26-20 record.
In Europe, Montenegro has a rising star in young center Bojan Dubljevic.
Dubljevic, who averaged 22.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game at last summer's U20 European Championship in Bilbao and was named to the All Tournament Team, earned Eurocup Quarter-Finals Game 1 MVP honours after leading Buducnost to a 75-71 win over Valencia Basket in Podgorica on Tuesday.
Then there is the steady play of Milko Bjelica, a 27-year-old forward who has earned the trust of Caja Laboral's great coach, Dusko Ivanovic.
Bjelica averages 21 minutes per game for Ivanovic and plays a vital role for Baskonia in the Liga Endesa.
With so much talent in the fold for the Montenegrins, it's hard to understand why this country didn't play better at the EuroBasket.
|Bjelica is playing at Caja Laboral under a Montenegrin coach, Dusko Ivanovic, in his first season in the Spanish Liga Endesa |
"I think we had some problems with our championship," Bjelica said to Basketball World News.
"We didn't show our true self.
"We are not so experienced with the European Championship and we learned a lot from these mistakes, from the bad championship, and I hope that this summer, we're going to prepare really well with our NBA players, Pekovic and Vucevic, and other national team players."
Last year's dismal performance, when Montenegro won their opening game against F.Y.R. of Macedonia but then lost four straight, surprised nearly everyone.
"I think that we didn't prepare well, maybe that was the reason," Bjelica said.
Dejan Radonjic, who is at the helm of Buducnost, had done a good job as an assistant to Dusko Vujosevic and was named as his replacement when Vujosevic stepped down from his post early last year.
After the 1-4 EuroBasket for Montenegro, Radonjic resigned.
Luka Pavicevic, a former coach of Alba Berlin who is now in charge of Chorale Roanne, was recently named as the new coach of Montenegro.
"With the new national team coach, I hope that we're going to make good results," Bjelica said.
The biggest cause for optimism has been the play of the 26-year-old Pekovic, who rarely got off the bench as a rookie but has thrived as a teammate of Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love in Minnesota.
The 2.09 pivot poured in 20 points or more in five consecutive games before Monday's clash with Golden State, when an ankle problem limited him to just 11 minutes.
There is a true look of pride in the face of Bjelica when he's asked about Pekovic.
"He's a very good guy and he already proved himself in Europe before," Bjelica said.
"Now, he's doing it in the NBA.
"He's the engine of our national team and is a very good player."