For Tiny Montenegro It's 'Mission Accomplished'
When Montenegro entered the FIBA Europe youth system last summer, many thought it would only be a matter of time before they made their presence felt on the continental championship scene.
Well, after cruising their way to the U20 European Championship for Women Division B title in 2007, Rade Petrovic's team has accomplished its mission for the 2008 Division A tournament by avoiding relegation back to Division B.
Montenegro suffered defeats of 19 points to Spain, 30 points against Russia and 52 to Lithuania. But the last two nightmares occured after the Montegrins had beaten Belgium to advance out of the Preliminary Round Group D and stay away from the relegation round Group G.
"Our only purpose here was to remain in the Division A. We are the youngest team in this championship. So our goal is accomplished," said Montenegro's leader, guard Snezana Aleksic.
Aleksic and her Buducnost Podgorica team-mate Milica Jovanovic have been the only true options for the Division A debutants. Aleksic is leading the team with 21.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.8 steals. And Jovanovic is adding 19.6 points and 4.4 rebounds a contest. The next best performer has been Marija Vujadinovic with 7.8 points a game.
The trio made sure Montenegro did not suffer defeat in their crucial 92-83 victory over Belgium in Sulmona. Aleksic collected 37 points, four rebounds, seven assists and six steals. Jovanovic helped out with 27 points and Vujadinovic chipped in 14 points.
"The whole team knew what this game meant for us. A victory and we would not have to play against relegation. And the team came together really well and it was obviously our best game," said Aleksic.
All three players logged at least 39 minutes in the win over Belgium because Petrovic has a very short bench - esentially a six-player rotation. All told, Petrovic has a team with six 18-year-olds and two players, Masa Stanisic and Neda Nikolic, who are just 16 years of age. There is only one 20-year-old player.
Since the big win over Belgium, Petrovic's team has struggled to find their form - a fact that frustrates Aleksic.
"The last two games (against Russia and Lithuania) were very, very bad. They were a disaster. And we are sad about them. But this is not the true face of our team. And we want to beat Ukraine and show everyone we can play at this level," added Aleksic.
Regardless what happens the rest of the tournament, the Montegrins will be playing next summer in Division A - and that is what matters most.