By Cindy Garcia-Bennett, PA Sport
Slovenia captain Rasho Nesterovic has launched a spirited defence of the NBA players competing at EuroBasket 2005.
The San Antonio Spurs center has played a significant role for his national side in Serbia & Montenegro, helping the Slovenians go unbeaten in Group C to reach the quarter-final round for the first time in history.
They will take on Germany and their NBA sensation Dirk Nowitzki, who has played to rave reviews in Serbia & Montenegro.
Nesterovic, Bostjan Nachbar and Primoz Brezec all play in the NBA and have enjoyed a fine competition.
||For me to play with the national team means a lot
But there are some leading players from the NBA who have come under fire, particularly those in the Serbia & Montenegro side eliminated from the EuroBasket.
Nesterovic says people should not rush to judgement.
“The people who make those criticisms have never played in the NBA,” Nesterovic said to PA Sport.
“They don’t know what it means. It's difficult for NBA players. Two days after the EuroBasket finishes, you go to the USA and start a tough season for seven or eight months.
"Once you get there, no one asks you what you did in the summer, whether you played for the national team or if you are tired. And then if something happens during the season, no one from the national team is going to ask you if you are okay, or if you need anything.
"They take you when they need you, and use you. This is the same here as it is in America, so I don't see why there is so much criticism for NBA players."
Nesterovic is confident Slovenia can continue to make waves at the EuroBasket, although Germany will be a big hurdle to clear.
“I always knew that we could do well,” he said.
"I have confidence in my team and my team-mates. From the first day, we were a little bit nervous but then we just started to play our game and everything came out really good.
"This tournament has proved that the best teams can lose against the so-called 'not-so-good teams'. In the knockout stages, anything can happen.
The coach just wants us to play our game and I think we are going to be in good shape.
"For us, our priority is to beat Germany and qualifying for the World Championship and after that, you never know.
"It's going to be a great game against Germany, they are a great team, very strong but so are we."
Should Slovenia make it to the big show next summer in Japan, Nesterovic says he desperately wants to be in the side.
"I definitely want to play in the World Championship," he said. "For me to play with the national team means a lot."
Nesterovic knows that Slovenia wil have to raise their game if they are to make a big impact here in Belgrade, and in Japan.
"There is always space for improvement," he said.
"The important thing is that we keep up our form."