Whether as part of Yugoslavia or as Serbia & Montenegro, Serbia has always had a rich basketball tradition.
From the 1980's up until the early 2000's, success in the U16 European Championship was almost a habit for the southeastern European state.
And it is a custom head coach Dragan Vascanin hopes his team will carry on at the Termosteps U16 European Championship Men in Crete, in the country’s first competition since becoming an independent state last year.
Serbia has yet to lose in this year’s competition.
|Branislav Djekic is one of a trio of Serbian big men that could trouble Lithuania. |
They took top honours in Group B before finishing as the best team in Group E in the qualifying round behind the dominant play of centre Dejan Musli.
Vascanin, who was born in the Croatian city of Zadar but was a product of the Basketball Academy of Belgrade, has been a coach for 15 years.
He talked to FIBA Europe ahead of tonight’s semi-final against Lithuania.
FIBA Europe: What are your impressions of tonight’s opponents, Lithuania?
Vascanin: They are a very athletic team. They like to run as much as possible. One area to look out for is their offensive rebounds. It is one of their best qualities. So we will have to make sure we keep them off the boards.
FIBA Europe: Well given that you have Dejan Musli, Branislav Djekic and also Nikola Rondovic, that shouldn’t prove to be too much of a problem?
Vascanin: Yes but it’s not only about height. They are a team with a lot of energy and a lot of heart. They are relentless and never give up. That’s something we have as well. They have the right mentality and it’s hard to stop that.
FIBA Europe: Do you think the styles of the two teams are complete opposites?
Vascanin: Yes we have completely different styles. Lithuania are a team that is very quick
and likes to run while we are more systematic and like to play tactics. And we play tough as well. That should be a factor today.
|Ovidijus Varanauskas is one of five Lithuanian players averaging double-digit scoring. |
FIBA Europe: You look at Lithuania’s team and they’re not the tallest – that would be your team – but also they’re not the strongest. Do you think they do a good job of using their players the best way possible?
Vascanin: Definitely. I think they are probably the team that fights the hardest, that gives the most in this tournament.
FIBA Europe: With the kind of players you have available, especially inside with Musli, Djekic and Lazar Radosavljevic, you make quite a few head coaches around here envious. Do you feel lucky almost to have these players?
Vascanin: Yes I feel we have great players but you have to use them properly. And I think we did that against Spain in the last game. We limited them to 14 points in 18 minutes in the second half. We have to keep that up. So we have to show that we are the best team, the best defensive team. We have to prove it.
FIBA Europe: Two days ago, before you beat Spain in the last game of the qualifying round, Dejan Musli guaranteed that you would win a gold medal on Sunday. What do you make of his prediction?
Vascanin: I think Dejan will have to run a lot tonight if he wants to make good on that promise.
FIBA Europe: How important would it be for Serbia to win a gold medal in your first year as an independent state?
Vascanin: Obviously it’s very important. Basketball is so big in our country that we are expected to do well. We have won at different levels in the last few years as Serbia & Montenegro and the people hope we can keep it going. But it would be a nice way to start a new page as Serbia.
FIBA Europe: Can you just tell us a bit about yourself and your background in basketball?
Vascanin: Well I was born in Zadar in Croatia, which is a big basketball city, but my coaching experience comes from my time at the academy in Belgrade. I have been involved at junior and cadet level for some eight years and have been a coach for more than 15 years now.
FIBA Europe: If you got a chance, would you like to coach the country’s senior team?
Vascanin: I have coached at senior level for about seven years in Serbia. I’m just happy to be coaching, to do it as my job.