|The face of exultation - Klemen Prepelic has complete confidence that Slovenia's depth and the guidance of their coach can bring them more victories |
By Simonas Baranauskas
Hosting the U20 European Championship has been a pure pleasure for Slovenia.
The fact they have secured the top spot in Group F and a place in the Quarter-Finals while the other five teams in the group face do-or-die games on the last day of the Second Round, sure helps.
The home team is yet to be defeated, one of the two sides - along with Serbia - still with a clean record in the tournament.
One of Slovenia's leaders, Klemen Prepelic, credits the team's depth and good inside play for the success so far and hopes to keep the winning streak alive even longer.
"We have a really strong team," the guard says confidently.
"In each position there are at least two great players with experience. We have very strong big guys under the rim and good scorers from outside."
Prepelic has been contributing big minutes for the Slovenians and is averaging 17.0 points, 3.8 rebounds and a tournament-leading 5.8 assists per game, including the one to Gezim Morina that led to the game-winning shot in the clash with Turkey.
"We have no pressure, because both the media and the coaches know that we are young and we really don't need the extra stress," said the 19-year-old shooting guard.
The core of this Slovenia team has already played together at the U20 European Championship in Bilbao last year and the U18 European Championship in Vilnius in 2010, a fact that Prepelic considers very important to their success this year.
However, the Slovenians finished only 10th in Vilnius and 11th in Bilbao.
"We have much more experience now," he explained.
"We have eight players who have participated in tournaments like this before.
"A lot of us played in very competitive leagues and that helped us a lot. We have great chemistry and we just play without any pressure."
SAGADIN, THE TALENT NURTURER
|'Sagadin knows how to work with young players,' Prepelic says of the coach of the U20 Slovenia team and his club, Helios |
Although Prepelic is originally from Maribor, the town of Domzale, where Slovenia have played their First and Second Round games, feels like a second home to him as he plays for local club Helios.
His boss at Helios, Zmagoslav Sagadin, is also the head coach of the U20 Slovenia national team.
Sagadin has a proven track record as a great mentor for young players, having coached the likes of Sani Becirovic, Marko Milic, Bostjan Nachbar, Primoz Brezec and Sarunas Jasikevicius in the formative years of their respective careers.
"Zmago is a coach who knows how to work with young players, and that's very good. He pushed me into the starting shooting guard position at Helios," Prepelic recalls.
"I got the chance and I played well."
Although Sagadin carries the reputation of a strict coach, Prepelic doesn't seem to mind, knowing the specialist's successful past and the names of the players he developed throughout the years.
"Although I've been playing well so far, I still have plenty of space for improvement," he says.
"My defence isn't great, because I'm physically not developed yet. I need to play harder on the drives to the basket and also improve my shooting percentages."
However, the player puts personal ambitions aside, when it comes to winning games with the Slovenian team.
"We still can improve our game. We've been making too many mistakes during the games, but we're young, it's understandable.
"We're watching a lot of tape of previous games to improve and Zmago gives us that extra push to improve our game every single day."