Bulgaria's Filip Videnov knows a prestigious competition like this month's EuroBasket could have serious repercussions for his career.
The 25-year-old played at the 1998 EuroBasket for Junior Men in Varna and though his national team finished a disappointing ninth, he came out a winner.
"I have very fond memories of that tournament," Videnov said to PA Sport.
|“||This competition will give me a chance to prove my talent in front of a large audience||„|
"It gave me the opportunity to play against very good players of my generation (including Slovenia's Sani Becirovic, Greece's Georgios Diamantopoulos) and what is more, it opened the door for me to go to the United States."
Videnov, who ranked in the Top 10 scorers and fourth in steals in that event, played so well that Western Kentucky coach Dennis Felton paid a visit to his homeland in a bid to bring the player to the US.
Four years later, Videnov departed Bowling Green with a university degree in sociology and experience in big-time college basketball.
While a player with the Hilltoppers, he reached three NCAA Tournaments.
"It gave me the opportunity to play basketball which is my passion and get a degree," he said.
"As a player I changed a lot.
"I became more of a shooter than I was before but I also improved on my defence.
"I became a stronger player but probably the most important thing is that I learned to fight all the time to get on the starting team."
The 1.96m tall guard has used that fight to earn a place in the national team.
He played in all six European qualifiers. In one game, he tore apart Latvia, pouring in a game-high 22 points.
After returning to Europe, Videnov earned a contract in the French top flight with Nancy and spent two years there.
He recently signed a contract with Turkish side Tekelspor.
Now with Bulgaria, he cannot wait for the real battle to begin.
The EuroBasket in Serbia & Montenegro tips off on September 16.
"This competition will not only allow me to compete against the best players in Europe but it will give me a chance to prove my talent in front of a large audience," he said.
"Who knows, maybe it will once again open the doors for a big opportunity in my career."
No games are easy at the EuroBasket. Bulgaria have been drawn in Group B with Croatia, Lithuania and Turkey.
"Those teams have players that compete in the NBA," he said.
"For us, it will be a great success if we progress to the second round.
"I believe that we have enough weapons to stay in the game and if we are strong enough mentally, we can do it."
Coach Rossen Barchovski has made sure his team will be physically prepared for the tournament in Serbia & Montenegro, with his players having undergone an intense week of workouts in the mountains near Sofia.
"We have a lot of work to do," admitted Videnov. "But we are getting there." Confidence is high following their recent victory in the Sofia tournament where they beat FYR Macedonia, England and Cyprus. But this week's tournament in Limoges, France, will prove their biggest test.
"This is going to be our last chance to prove ourselves before the EuroBasket," said Vitenov.
"We will play against France and Turkey and they are no easy rivals so it will be a good opportunity to show what we can do against the top teams.
"The Sofia tournament gave us an added confidence but it really didn't push us to the limit, as we won every game with a 20-point margin."
The good news for Bulgaria is that experienced point guard Yordan Bozov has recovered in time for the tournament.
Bozov, who played a vital role for Bulgaria in qualifying, has struggled with a knee injury throughout the year.
"He is getting back in shape," said Videnov.
"I know that this tournament is very important for him and he is a vital player for us.
"He is still a little shaky, but he is coming along good and we are very happy to have him in the squad."
Videnov admitted his team must improve on defence.
"We have been scoring enough points to win games," he said.
"But the problem is we are not constant in defence and we are working on this to try to improve as much as possible before we travel to Serbia."
Regardless of what happens at the EuroBasket, he believes they have won one battle already.
"I've never seen so many people at a game in Bulgaria as the day we qualified for the EuroBasket," said Videnov.
"It was a fantastic feeling because ever since we qualified, more people are following basketball and it's great.
"I think basketball in Bulgaria has a big future and we hope that we can give them some joy."