One of the nicest teams to follow in the 2008 U20 European Championship Men is the team from Montenegro.
Their first ever performance in the competition was nothing but an impressive debut.
Montenegro separated from Serbia in June 2006, but joined the FIBA Europe competitions only the following summer.
One year in Division B was enough for them to qualify to where they belong.
|Vladimir Dasic has been the heart of Montenegro at these championships.|
On one side they are a new country with only around 600,000 inhabitants. On the other they are anything but strangers to basketball.
Some of the greatest players in the history of Yugoslavia and later on Serbia & Montenegro arrived from that region.
Nevertheless not a lot of people expected greats from the fresh team. Not even the staff on the team itself.
"We are a young country. Last year we played in Poland the Division B games we finished first, but now it's a totally different team with only a few players from last year." says Head Coach Dejan Radonjic in an interview to fibaeurope.com
"When we came here all I had in mind was to stay in Division A. We wanted to finish 14th and up."
"The most important thing was that we'll play in Division A next year as well," but things didn't really go as planned. On the good side.
Montenegro finished on top of their Preliminary Round group and climbed to four wins in a row the next game.
"We were very happy about the results but we didn't let it confuse us. We didn't start to think about medals or anything like that. Still wanted to take one game at a time."
When it seemed like history was about to take place there were two close losses - a five point loss to Serbia and a deciding four point loss to France.
As a result they fell to the 5-8 classification games where they'll play today against Italy for the fifth place.
"I guess we lacked some experience in those games," he admits, but doesn't forget where he's coming from.
"Nevertheless it's a great result for us, and everybody is very happy."
The game against Serbia was somewhat special for both sides, and that might have made the difference eventually.
"Coming to the game I didn't think it will have any effect, but as the game progressed I sensed that some of my players were a little bit over-excited.
"For me it wasn't a big thing. The only thing I had in mind was that I came very close to beating the World and European Champions.
"That would have been a big thing for Montenegro, our country and myself, but not because it was Serbia."
Part of the process of building the team included recruiting of a kind few teams ever had experienced.
With the foundation of the country and its joining to FIBA Europe players from that region were asked to choose on which national team they would like to play.
That is a one way road, as once you make the decision you're bound to that national team for the rest of your life.
According to coach Radonjic it was an easy job to assemble.
"Vladimir Dasic and Sead Sehovic are from Montenegro and as far as I know it was clear from the start they'll play for us.
"With some of the other players we had to talk, and showed them why it's better for them to get exposure and experience."
One of the main reasons for the big success of Montenegro is Dasic. The talented tall forward is one of the top players in the competition.
In July 2006 Vladimir Dasic still played with the U18 team of Serbia in the European Championship and was one of the main stars in the team.
Now he's the top player of his new country.
At 208cm, he's averaging 22.3 ppg (top scorer so far) with 8.9 rpb, 2.6 spg more than 57% from two point range and long stretches in which he's taking over the game.
Dasic is playing during the season at Montenegro's top club - Buducnost, where his coach is no other than Radonjic.
The connection between the two surely helped the team reach their highs.
But Montenegro surely showed much more than only Dasic.
Coach Radonjic built around him a fighting group that plays team basketball and knows when to let Dasic explode, and when to move the ball around to the open man.
"The guys work very hard. We have an excellent atmosphere on the team, because everybody wants to be here, and play for the team.
"They all know it's a big chance for them and for their career, to get a big exposure on such stage."
But there's one more spice in his recipe that probably makes the difference.
"These guys play for the first time for their new country in a European Championship. Patriotism also plays a big part in this team. They want so much to make the people back home proud of them.
"I believe we achieved that."