By Paul Nilsen
|"It doesn't matter if the coach is a woman or a man, the most significant thing is basketball knowledge and dedication to work and the team." Nevena Jovanovic|
When the sharp-shooting Nevena Jovanovic finally pulled a senior Serbian national team vest over her head last summer, it marked the start of what has been a highly productive and memorable 12 months.
Having represented her country at youth level between 2005 and 2010, the 22 year old finally got the call she had been patiently waiting for, when head coach Marina Maljkovic gave her a place on the roster for the EuroBasket Women qualification campaign last year.
The versatile Jovanovic certainly grabbed the opportunity given to her with both hands. She racked up a memorable debut campaign with nine points and two assists per game, but most impressively, shot an eye-popping 48% from the perimeter.
It was a performance that put her on the three-point shooting podium, her numbers the third best in the entire competition.
Meanwhile to add further joy, Serbia shrugged off the loss of WNBA bound Sonja Petrovic and the absence of other key personnel, to book their spot in France.
"My first year in the senior team was great" recalled Jovanovic.
"But, I had to work really hard and always be at my maximum level, just in order to stay.
"I'm glad I won a place in the team, and helped us to qualify."
She continued, "Without the injured players, each one of us had to give 120% - which in the end, proved to be the right thing.
The hardest task for Jovanovic will now be to cling to her coveted place on the roster and not miss out on the all-important transport to France, where Serbia will face the host nation, along with Great Britain and Latvia in Group D.
She certainly can't complain that she hasn't had enough of an opportunity to continue impressing Marina Maljkovic, since the play-caller doubles-up as her head coach at Partizan Galenika.
The club recently completed a magnificent domestic clean sweep, not losing a single game in the process.
Having the national team head coach watching you every day is of course a double-edged sword in that they see the bad as well as the good, but it's something Jovanovic is happy to deal with.
She stressed that whilst Maljkovic is the only female head coach preparing to take her team to EuroBasket Women, it is her approach and not her gender which is the most important element.
|Knows a good number of her players from club duty: Serbia head coach Marina Maljkovic|
"Coach Marina is the kind of coach that loves discipline" she said.
"She is working very hard and she is trying every day to improve us all as individuals, so that the team will be better.
"It doesn't matter if the coach is a woman or a man, the most significant thing is basketball knowledge and dedication to work and the team."
Jovanovic is looking forward to the possibility of stepping out for Serbia at their first major tournament in four years and the first of her career.
Having lost their three games during EuroBasket Women 2009 by relatively heavy margins, it looks like they are likely to fare better this time. But, Jovanovic isn't getting ahead of herself, adamant Serbia believe it will be a tough challenge.
"All groups are strong since EuroBasket Women is made up of the best teams.
"Our goal is simple, -to give all that we have, to hustle and hope it will be enough for some good results.
Stepping up to the senior level also means the revival of a strong friendship for the player who spent much of her successful youth career on the same court as UE Sopron center Sara Krnjic.
"If we are able to choose our room-mates, which I very much doubt, then for sure, she will be one of my first choices" laughed Jovanovic.
"All the girls are great, but I have known Sara the longest, since we went together through the cadet (U16) selection."
Serbia tip-off in Trelaze against Great Britain on Saturday 15 June.