Every week, fibaeurope.com collaborator Mark Woods talks to players with a single travel destination in mind this summer, Lithuania.
Next in the series is Pero Antic, the never-say-die power forward of F.Y.R. of Macedonia.
Mark Woods writes on basketball for a number of British newspapers as well as broadcasting for the BBC and Sky Sports. He is also assistant editor of mvp247.com and can be found on Twitter @markbritball.
Pero Antic remembers his first spell playing under Marin Dokuzovski with a mixture of fondness and incredulity.
He was barely in his teens, desperate to make an impression with Rabotnicki, the local powerhouse in Skopje, and the subject of this young boy's dreams.
Dokuzovski assessed his skills, watched him play, and demonstrated the kind of immense foresight that coaches must show in order to succeed. Right? "On the first practice," recalls Antic, "I was cut."
Amid the devastation, the trail could have ended there. Antic, by rights, should have taken the hint and find something else to do.
However he felt, even then, that a triumph against the odds was written in the stars. "I'm Leo in the zodiac and I'm a fighter in life. I came back and showed them that they were wrong."
|This time around, Pero Antic knows he's not in danger of not making Marin Dokuzovski's final squad. Instead, the F.Y.R. of Macedonia coach relies on the veteran power forward to lead his younger teammates by example.|
When Dokuzovski next saw Antic, five years later, he held on to him for one season before clubs overseas, starting with AEK Athens, spirited him out of the F.Y.R of Macedonia and confirmed his victory against adversity.
A decade later, and the duo have been reunited in the cause of their national team as they prepare for EuroBasket 2011. Last time out, two years ago, they reached the second round, beating both Israel and Germany before bowing out.
It was a step forward, Antic states, proof that they belonged among the established countries of Europe. Now, having spent the past month learning in unison, he is confident that there will be no going backwards.
"I think that we are ready to make another surprise like last Eurobasket," he states.
"We want to win some games that nobody expects us to win. And to try to take some place higher than ninth place. But the most important thing is everybody to be healthy and without injuries."
In their initial warm-ups, F.Y.R of Macedonia lost to Italy in Bormio before defeating Canada. Antic, as expected, is taking a central role, as the team's captain and as one of its more potent forces.
Now aged 29, he has been asked to lend his knowledge to a crop of young players who are still largely based in their homeland.
Add to that the experience of Bo McCalebb, their primary offensive threat in last summer's qualifying campaign, and there is an ever greater strength emerging as this current group learns together.
Old heads are needed to smooth their path. "I feel responsibility for sure," Antic admits.
"I'm grateful to be captain to this generation because we together did the best results in the history of Macedonian basketball."
If there are better times ahead, it will be confirmed among friends and neighbours. In Group C in Alytus, FYR of Macedonia must meet Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Greece and Croatia along with the winner of the Additional Qualifying Round.
It will add some extra spice, Antic acknowledges.
Bring it on, he says. "I'm happy that we are in the ‘Balkan' group because I'm going to play against a lot of my friends. And for sure I would like to be the winner at the end.
"Reaching the second round is the goal of the team because, at the last EuroBasket, we went there and the dream is one step higher. Hopefully the dream will come true."
Why not, you ask? Antic is a man who has proven that you can never say never. Expect the unexpected, he adds.
"They're going to be interesting games to watch, the ones in our group. That, I can guarantee."