Dubljevic Chasing Euro Gold


The next two weeks are vital for Jelena Dubljevic and the Serbia & Montenegro Under-18 women's team.

Dubljevic, the team captain, is hoping to fulfil her dream of leading her country to victory in the European Championships, which start in Bratislava, Slovakia on July 9 and last for nine days.

The 17-year-old, 190 cm power forward had to watch from the sidelines at the 2003 U16 European Championships in Turkey as her team-mates won gold.

Dubljevic broke a toe before the first game against Israel and took no further part in the tournament.

The Buducnost Podgorica club prospect is confident of a top-four finish in Bratislava, but realises they must first qualify from a strong Group A, also featuring Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Germany and Hungary.

"Of course, we would like a medal, but, if we finish in the first four, that will be enough to qualify for the World Championships in Argentina," said Dubljevic.

But she concedes her country's preparation for the Championships have not been all plain sailing.

"We have struggled with early injury problems, and we are probably the youngest team at the Championships, but I think we are capable of finishing in a top position.

"In sport, it is always harder to defend than to win your first title, so we know that there will be no easy games in Bratislava.

"Last time we didn't play Spain and France, which was good as those teams can cause big problems for us because of their style of play.

"But squads such as Belarus or Russia are equally capable of winning gold," she said.

Belarus were silver medallists, Ukraine won bronze and Russia were sixth at the 2003 Under-16 European Championship.

Dubljevic said two key players to watch are Russia's Tatiana Bokareva and Anastasiya Verameyenka from Belarus.

Another of the fancied teams in Bratislava is France whose top scorer Sandrine Gruda will need to be stopped.

Jennifer Digbeu, younger sister of men's national team player Alain 'Air France' Digbeu, is following in the family footsteps.

Dubljevic is keen to take her basketball to even bigger heights after the European Championships, perhaps even the USA.

"I have my goals," she said.

"I don't want to be just an average player, I want to be better than that.

"That's why I want to develop myself in our league, then at one of best clubs. in Europe.

"But I am in no hurry. I'm still young and I still have to learn. After all of this, maybe I'll go to USA, but, who knows?"

Dubljevic has already knocked back several offers from US colleges because she is not quite ready to leave her home country.

"I can learn more in Serbia and Montenegro as our basketball schools are among best in the world," she said.

"Still, I can't just say I will stay here and continue to play for Buducnost after this summer, as anything is possible after European championship."

She knows she still has a lot to learn if she is to make to the top - either in Europe of the USA.

"I need to improve my fitness," she said.

"It is one of my weaknesses. I have to be quicker than I am, but overall, I know if I continue to work hard, I will improve."

She said one of her strengths, even though she is a 'power forward', is her all-round game.

"I can shoot, and I can charge through the opponents' defence," added Dubljevic.

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