Serbians Wise Beyond Their Years

11.09.2009

By Simon Wilkinson

Serbia came to Poland with a simple goal in mind: to do the best they can so that their lacklustre performances at the last two EuroBaskets can be relegated to the past once and for all.

Somewhere along the way, they have also found an additional challenge: to prove wrong the notion that having a young team and lacking experience are two things that go hand in hand.

Serbia have by far the youngest team in this tournament, with an average age of 22.3. Their two oldest players (guard Bojan Popovic and team captain Nenad Krstic) are just 26. Not surprisingly, it has been said they aren't battle-tested enough to be a real threat.

According to Krstic, nothing could be further from the truth.

"When we beat Spain, a team with more experience than us, we showed that we have good chances," he said, making reference to Serbia's shock 66-57 win on the opening day of the tournament.

"I don't agree with what is being said about how we are a young team with little experience. A lot of our players are in the Euroleague. So they have experience but they are just young in age."

One perfect example of this is starting point guard Milos Teodosic from Olympiakos. At just 22, he helped the Greek giants reach last season's Euroleague Final Four and so far has done a great job of orchestrating Serbia's offense.

The 1.95m guard was one of the leaders of Serbia's golden generation which dominated at the Junior (U-16, U-18 and U-20) European Championships in recent years. He led his national side to the gold medal at the U-20 tournament in 2007 and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

Milan Macvan is another perfect illustration of Krstic's argument.

Two months shy of his 20th birthday, he is the youngest player on Serbia's squad but at times has provided glimpses of his ability to play well beyond his years.

After being named Best Young Player in the Eurocup this past season, he showed no fear against the world champions, burying two three-pointers in the third quarter, the second one giving Serbia their biggest lead at 56-37.

While the young players have certainly done their part, Serbia know they can rely on Krstic to lead by example as the nation try to recover some former glory following early exits in the last two EuroBaskets.

After being a non-factor in a loss to Slovenia due to foul trouble, the Oklahoma City Thunders center bounced back and ended Great Britain's hopes of a win on Wednesday to secure Serbia's place in the Qualifying Round in Lodz.

He accounted for the last six points of a 17-4 spurt late in the third quarter that turned a 41-35 lead into a commanding 58-44 advantage and Serbia used the final frame to put the finishing touches, closing the Preliminary Round with a 2-1 mark.

And if over the next week the players' combined experience should prove not to be enough, Serbia can always lean on legendary coach Dusan Ivkovic.

One of the most successful European coaches, he led Yugoslavia to three EuroBasket successes (1989, 1991 and 1995) as well as a World Championship crown (1990).

The value of having Ivkovic in charge of the team is not lost on his players.

 "It's a big honour for all of us," said guard Milenko Tepic. "When we were kids, we watched him lead our national teams to a lot of titles. Now he is our coach. He has a lot of experience and a lot of confidence. We get confidence from him and you can see that on the court. I think we are in a good position."


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