|Natasa Kovacevic (right) is the second best scorer for Serbia after the First Round, averaging 15.0 points |
By Paul Nilsen
Natasa Kovacevic announced her arrival at the U20 European Championship Women in real style but it's the longer term outlook for Serbian women's basketball which truly excites a player who never fails to impress with her maturity both on and off the court.
Having dropped a buzzer-beating three-pointer in overtime against the Slovak Republic on her debut in Debrecen to help her team into the Second Round, the forward made an instant impression.
"These are the situations that I like. Someone had to take the responsibility and I had the ball," recalled Kovacevic.
"There were five seconds remaining and we were going for the win. Immediately after I released, I knew I was going to score.
"It was an incredible feeling but it's all over now."
Despite only being 1994 born, Kovacevic is one of the smartest players you will see at youth level, both playing and speaking like a true veteran. Her approach underlines exactly why she was brought into the team and secondly, why despite being the second youngest player on the roster, she has been handed over 25 minutes per game.
"I firmly believe that the most important thing is a team spirit," she explained.
"Also with fighting spirit and strong will, mental strength plays a great role too.
"Win or lose, tomorrow is always a new game and it's important to keep focusing on the next opponent."
Putting Women's Basketball On The Serbian Map
The 18-year-old is hoping these attributes will one day lead to senior national team coach Marina Maljkovic knocking on her door. Kovacevic is delighted to see Serbia writing a new chapter both on and off the floor - something which harvested an immediate dividend as they gleefully booked a place for the EuroBasket Women Final Round next summer.
She said: "For far too long, women's basketball in Serbia was on the sidelines."
"But, with new management, things started to change and now women's basketball is taking its' rightful place. With all this in mind, this success is not surprising.
"It's the dream for all of us to play for senior national team, and all of us are dreaming of an invitation."
One player who Kovacevic will no doubt be hoping one day plays alongside side her at the highest level is point guard Aleksandra Stanacev.
She was also promoted from the U18 European Championship Women team which attained a bronze medal earlier this month and even found her way onto the All-Tournament Team.
"Aleksandra is a great playmaker and I really enjoy playing with her," smiled Kovacevic.
"She has a great court view and her assists are excellent. If she keeps working hard, she will have very bright future."
Before they even think of senior team duty one day, there is so much youth basketball still to be played for this dynamic duo and not least a first taste of a global tournament via the U19 World Championship Women in Lithuania next year.
Yet still burning inside Kovacevic is the mixed emotion of pride at finishing third in Bucharest but also the frustration of allowing a glorious opportunity to advance to the Final slip through their fingers after throwing a game away against Russia.
New Challenges At Youth Level
|Kovacevic is proud to have won the bronze medal with Serbia at the recent U18 European Championship Women, but feels they had the potential to play for gold|
"Winning a bronze medal is an amazing thing for us since it was a fulfilment of our promise. It was a team effort and we fought our way throughout the tournament but in my opinion, we are better than the Russian team but we just lacked a bit of luck," insisted Kovacevic.
"While everything didn't work out in the Semi-Final, we compensated for it in the match for third place and by taking the bronze medal."
She continued: "I regret that we didn't get a shot at the gold, but we hope to make up for it at the U19 World Championship.
"I have never participated in a World Championship and this will be a big honour for me and my team-mates.
"It's a great challenge to compete against the best in the world and we are highly motivated to show everyone what we are made of."
Barely able to catch breath after her exploits in the Romanian capital, Kovacevic has had to adjust quickly to her new environment, but her impressive basketball IQ means the transition wasn't so daunting and was also helped by the presence of Vozdovac Beograd team-mate Jelena Stankovic.
"Basketball is basketball, so the adjustment was not so hard. It took me a few days to learn the plays and after that it was all good.
"It's a great honour to learn and to play with team-mates who are two years older.
"It's not easy to go from one tournament to another, but there is nothing like playing for your country and to represent its' colours.
"Having someone like Jelena to rely on is amazing," added Kovacevic.
"We know each other on and off the court. She has fantastic energy and she is a great player, but I consider her first and foremost as my friend."
Unsurprisingly, Kovacevic is putting her pro-basketball dreams on hold for another 12 months and knuckling down to focus on her studies although she is determined to one day make a move away from her home city.
She said: "My plan is to stay in Serbia for one more year, to finish high-school and to try to develop as much as I can. Education is very important to me.
"Since I was little, I wanted to play and live in Spain - I guess time will tell if this will come true."