By Luis Cristovao
|Aleksandra Crvendakic is sharing her experience with her teammates, as she plays at her third consecutive U16 European Championship Women.|
It must have been a very difficult awakening for Aleksandra Crvendakic on Sunday morning.
Serbia's top scorer and the third-best scorer overall of the U16 European Championship Women will compete in the difficult Classification Round for 13th to 16th place after Saturday's defeat to Greece.
Surely this was not the plan of the 16-year-old who plays, in Miskolc, her third consecutive U16 European Championship Women.
In the past years the 1.87 m forward left no doubt there are great things to be expected from her in the future.
She averaged 15.4 points as well as a team-high 8.2 rebounds and 3.0 blocks at last year's U16 European Championship Women in Cagliari.
This year she has underlined her status as leader of the team, making 19.0 points and 7.7 rebounds in the first three games of the tournament.
She is the player her teammates look for in crunch time.
But this is not a problem for Crvendakic, as she has grown as a player and a person.
Conscious of her role in the team, she uses her personal experience to guide the team both on and off the court.
"I'm not scared like I was before. To have good results we need to always play at a very high level," Crvendakic says.
"With my experience, I am ready to show my teammates how to react and to solve the new problems we're facing, and I believe we'll have success in this U16 European Championship Women."
Finishing in last place of Group B was an unexpected result for a team that started so well in this tournament, beating the Slovak Republic in their opener and causing many difficulties to a strong Russian team on Day Two.
But for head coach Milos Pavlovic, this is part of the team's growth process.
"Last year we had a lot of injured players, mainly starting five players, and we struggled to stay in Division A.
"I really believe in this generation of athletes, but we are a very young team, with five players born in 1997, and our main goal is to develop our players to make a run for a top result next season.
"That's why we're all doing our best to stay in Division A."
OFF TO NEW SHORES
|Serbia head coach Milos Pavlovic claims that Crvendakic is one of the most talented players coming from Serbia in recent years.|
For Crvendakic the summer action should not stop here, since she is expected to also be on the Serbian roster for the U18 European Championship Women in Bucharest.
"She excels in Serbian youth programmes, and is one of the best players we have had in recent years," confirms Pavlovic.
"She's a great worker, very ambitious and has a natural leadership mindset."
This was a year of changes for Crvendakic, since she left her hometown Loznica to play with Red Star Belgrade.
"The adjustment was easy. I already knew the other players and coaching staff from the national team, and I also had no problems with being in a new school.
"I knew that was what was planned for me and I was ready for the situation," Crvendakic confirms.
Loznica has produced excellent prospects for Serbian's women's basketball, like 1991-born Tina Jovanovic, who has been on Serbian youth national teams since 2005 and Snezana Colic, who is expected to play at this year's U20 European Championship Women.
These players reflect the good work done by local coaches developing women athletes.
Only the best of these four teams will end up smiling, as starting from this year three teams get relegated.
The short-term goal for Serbia is to stay in Division A.
Aleksandra Crvendakic is also thinking further.
For now, she wants to stay in Serbia, where she plans to finish her studies and also to gain experience as a player in the senior women's team of Red Star Belgrade.
But her main ambition is to play in the EuroLeague Women and play professionaly in a foreign country, preferably in Spain, where she expects to evolve into a well-respected player.
The U16 European Championship Women is just the start to a promising career.