By Cindy Garcia-Bennett, PA International
Yugoslavian great Zoran Savic has defended embattled coach Zeljko Obradovic in the wake of Serbia & Montenegro's failure at the EuroBasket.
The former power forward has also blamed the team's early exit from the competition on the country's reluctance to blood new players for the event.
Savic, who played under Obradovic in the national team that won European titles in 1995 and 1997 and is now the sporting director for Barcelona, was in Belgrade for the big event.
Obradovic said he would never coach the national team again after his team's elimination round defeat to France.
Savic told PA Sport: "Obradovic is not the problem for Yugoslav basketball. He is a person who has won and given so much to the national teams, the problems are others.
"They (federation) made the mistake two or three years ago because they should have introduced younger players to arrive at this EuroBasket fresh and with ambition.
"The young players we have think that they are NBA stars when they really don't play that much and what is more, they don't play well."
Zeljko Rebraca, Marko Jaric, Darko Milicic, Nenad Krstic and Vladimir Radmanovic are all with NBA sides.
"As for the ones who play in Europe," Savic said, "they have had a bad year and as a result we haven't had a bad tournament.
"We now need to start from zero and build up on the team spirit."
Much can be learned from the fall of Serbia & Montenegro.
When cracks begin to show, they need to be mended.
"In the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis, we already showed signs that we were playing horrible and in the end, we won," Savic said.
"But we had the bad signs that things weren't working. We didn't pay attention and in the end we were made to pay when we most needed it."
Many of the NBA players have excelled in this tournament, especially Dirk Nowitzki of Germany. Savic believes his country's players have lost their focus since crossing the Atlantic.
"The problem is to educate the young NBA players that it's not how much money you receive that defines if you are a good player, you are a good player if you win something," he said.
"This is what is like in Yugoslavia. Just because you earn $10million a year doesn't make you a great player."
There is also the issue of adapting to a more European style of play, especially those who joined up with the national side very late.
"For NBA players, it is difficult to return here having played little time," Savic said. "There were some who had finished the tournament in April and others in mid June.
The only consolation for Savic this week is that some of his Barcelona stars have peformed well and he has also had a chance to watch some of the players he will be counting on at Barcelona next season.
Spain's Juan Carlos Navarro was elected to the All-Tournament team.
Another, Michail Kakiouzis of Greece, lifted the trophy after his side's final victory over Germany.
"I am happy because they have played well and I am sure they will be satisfied with their individual performances," Savic said.