Dragicevic Boost For Serbia & Montenegro

12 July 2006
From Darko Nikolic, PA Sport, Belgrade

Serbia & Montenegro have been handed a major fillip ahead of the start of their OSTCHEM U20 European Championship Men campaign after star player Tadija Dragicevic was included in their 12-man squad.

The inspirational center had emerged as a serious doubt for the tournament after sustaining a leg injury during last month`s Global Games in Dallas.

Dragicevic missed the final phase of training ahead of the European Championships and it was feared coach Miroslav Nikolic would be forced to leave him out of the party travelling to Izmir.

However, Dragicevic, who had been put down as Nikolic`s "13th man" while he attempted to recover from injury, has returned to training and has been named in the Young Blues squad, much to the relief of the coach.

"Dragicevic will be with us," said Nikolic.

"That's the most important news before our trip to Turkey.

"He managed to train as normal during our last practice session and that was the main reason why we have included him in our final squad."

Nikolic insists he will not blood Dragicevic until the Red Star Belgrade star is ready.

"As a precaution, we won't risk him at the start of tournament," the coach added.

"He will, almost for sure, miss our first game, against Latvia, but his presence will be significant for our subsequent games."

Dragicevic averaged 15.5 points and 7.3 rebounds at the Global Games, the event seen as a warm-up for the European Championships.

The Serbo-Montenegrins suffered a semi-final defeat to Lithuania in Dallas and it was in that match that Dragicevic sustained his injury, having scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Serbia & Montenegro eventually finished fourth, behind champions Russia, Lithuania and USA, but Nikolic remains confident his youngsters have the talent to make a name for themselves in Turkey.

"Our ambitions are to get to the highest level, like always," he added.

"We will have to wait and see how far we can go.

"In Dallas, Russia showed they can achieve European gold, but the host nation will be dangerous too, just as some of the other elite teams.

"Although we have some very tough competition, we believe in our own capabilities. Therefore, I can be open and predict we will claim one of the medals."

Serbia & Montenegro have been drawn in Group A for the championships, alongside Latvia, Croatia and Belarus.

Serbia & Montenegro squad:

Tadija Dragicevic (Red Star), Dragan Labovic (Borac), Nikola Pekovic, Novica Velickovic, Milenko Tepic, Boris Bakic (all Partizan), Ivan Maras, Nenad Mijatovic (both Buducnost), Nikola Dragovic (Mega Ishrana), Miljan Rakic, Branko Jereminov (both Hemofarm), Ivan Paunic (Vojvodina).

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