|Vlado Ilievski missed EuroBasket 2009 in Poland through injury|
By Paul Nilsen
Twelve years after he first stepped out at EuroBasket as a teenager, Vlado Ilievski is back and ready to make up for lost time.
The quietly spoken guard is ready to make a big noise for F.Y.R. of Macedonia in Alytus and perhaps even beyond, having missed out at EuroBasket 2009 in Poland due to injury.
Sat on the sidelines kicking his heels in frustration, it was a bittersweet time as his team excelled without him and sent shockwaves around the tournament by not only reaching the second round, but almost booking a quarter-final spot.
"For sure it was very difficult for me but that's life." explains Ilievski.
"You get injured as a player and you miss games and sometimes worse, you get to miss out on playing at championships.
"Since F.Y.R. of Macedonia hadn't played too often at EuroBasket it was even more difficult for me to accept at the time.
"However I was really pleased that the guys played so well in Poland. I was very happy for them, the fans and of course for our country that we made a good impression."
Even though he wasn't involved, Ilievski is well aware of the potential benefits the team gained from their experiences and is confident it will serve them well as they bid to finish among the top three teams in Alytus.
"I think EuroBasket 2009 signalled a new opportunity for us to make an impact and we did that so hopefully this time we will do the same again.
"There is no question that what happened at the last tournament helps us so much this time around because we have more confidence.
"Not only that, but you can see that our experienced guys are still the same while the younger guys have gained more experienced too so I think we are in a great position."
He adds, "I think we have an even better team than last time but of course time will tell if this is right."
Casting his mind back to the late 1990's when he first stepped out at EuroBasket at the tender age of 19, Ilievski smiles when he reminisces about his one and only taste of a major tournament with his country.
He played 15 minutes against eventual bronze medallists Yugoslavia and scored seven points, a memory which as you would expect hasn't faded with time.
"My first experience at EuroBasket was incredible." recalls Ilievski.
"I remember stepping out onto court against some players who were either already basketball legends or became legends.
"It was special to be playing at a big tournament for my country but I couldn't believe the players I was playing against.
"I guess most of them will be sat in the crowd now watching EuroBasket 2011 or sat working in the offices of many great basketball clubs while I am still playing of course so in this way I am very happy."
Since making his EuroBasket debut all those years ago, Ilievski has played for some of the top clubs in Europe and been a regular in Euroleague.
Not surprisingly, he is preparing to harness all of that invaluable experience so he can make up for missing out two years ago and ensure he has more than just one special EuroBasket memory to reflect on when he eventually hangs up his basketball shoes.
"I am definitely expecting to bring a real calmness to the team and I hope my experience means our players are all well connected on the court.
"I think as point guard especially I have a very important role to play and I am confident we will bring our best basketball to this tournament.
"I am excited and this is the place where every player wants to be."