|His performances with Minnesota in the pre-season confirm that Nikola Pekovic has recovered from his ankle injury for good |
Montenegro didn't like going into this summer's EuroBasket Qualification Round without their captain and best player, Nikola Pekovic.
The 2.11m center had off-season surgery to remove bone spurs from his right ankle and while there had been hope that he'd play for the national team, Montenegro ultimately had to go into battle without him.
Everything has worked out just fine.
Montenegro ended up winning all 10 of their games to qualify for EuroBasket 2013, giving youngsters vital experience along the way, and Pekovic looks as if he has benefitted from not taking part in the Qualification Round because with Minnesota Timberwolves in their pre-season, he has looked terrific.
In the club's 82-75 exhibition game triumph over the Chicago Bulls at the weekend, Pekovic had 16 points and 17 rebounds.
The 17 boards were the most from a Timberwolves player in the pre-season in five years.
"Yeah, and also in my career probably, most rebounds," Pekovic said when told of that fact.
"It's a good feeling to win every game, especially against the Chicago Bulls.
"They're a great team, but they were missing Derrick Rose.
"We were missing players too, but it was a great win."
The fortunes of Pekovic have changed dramatically since his rookie season of 2010-11, when it looked as if his career might not take off across the Atlantic.
The team replaced Kurt Rambis with veteran coach Rick Adelman and he gave Pekovic plenty of minutes to prove his worth in 2011-12.
Despite his injury problems last season, Pekovic was very productive and now that he's healthy, the Montenegrin could put huge numbers before linking up with his national team for next year's EuroBasket in Slovenia.
He's not taking anything for granted because if Minnesota is short of anything, it isn't talent.
"Last year I was working to get minutes, and this year I must work," he said.
"I earned those minutes so you know I can stay there.
"I can't just say, ‘coach, get me to play 35 minutes, that's fine, I'll stop working.'
"I will work even more so that the coach can see he didn't miss why he gave me the minutes to play.
"That's what I'm doing, that's how I'll keep doing it."