EUROBASKET WOMEN 2013
|Andja Jelavic has developed herself as Croatia's premier point guard|
By Joe Hewison
Andja Jelavic's ability to distribute the ball and bring the best out of teammates has established her as Croatia's premier point guard over the past ten years.
But at EuroBasket Women 2013, the 32-year-old is contributing to her country's campaign with assists of a different kind.
Just a couple of months ago it looked unlikely that Jelavic would be in France at all after she suffered an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury on a drive to the basket during a game for Turkish club Samsun Basket.
However, following five months of fitness and rehabilitation work, much of it in solitary sessions just ten days after surgery, meant Croatia's captain recovered in time to make the trip - albeit in a revised role.
"My knee is really good," said Jelavic, who missed out on EuroBasket Women 2011 altogether after losing a similar fitness battle.
"I don't have a problem with it now but is too early to play 40 minutes so I am here to help the team with 5-10 minutes.
"Maybe in these next few games I will play more depending on the coach and the situation. But I feel good."
Croatia Head Coach Stipe Bralic has referred to the need to monitor Jelavic's minutes (she featured for only seven minutes in the first round) as a ‘big problem'.
But in bringing her to the tournament, it is hoped that the player herself can offer a solution in something of an advisory position from the bench.
"It's a different role but I am happy to be here, especially after five months out with an injury," she added.
"It is not easy to come back but I want to help the team, it doesn't matter how. If I am supporting them from the bench it is still the national team and we need to be a team, not individuals.
"I can help them. I can tell them what to do sometimes in some situations so I am trying to help.
"It is really frustrating because sometimes it is more difficult to watch than it is to play. It is really different and I get more nervous."
Jelavic's stress levels settled somewhat after Croatia recovered from a slow start to beat Lithuania on day one.
But back-to-back defeats to Belarus and the Czech Republic could increase the importance of the point guard passing her experience on to her team-mates as they tackle the step up second round.
"We started really well with the first game but in the second and third game it was a bit different," said Jelavic.
"In the second game we allowed Belarus to jump, they had 20 more rebounds than us but we want to look forward because what we have done to this point has gone.
"In the upcoming games we need to be more focused, concentrate and play as well as we can."
And Jelavic, more than anybody, is hoping that her team-mates don't pass up this opportunity to progress to the quarter-finals, as the longer Croatia remain in contention, the greater chance she will have to increase her influence on the court.
"I am practicing with the team but also doing my own exercises on my own so hopefully I will be able to play more the further we go."