|Vladimir Lucic: "I think the national team did a good job, there were a lot of young guys on that team, the main target was to qualify for the World Championship and they achieved that"|
By Dimitris Kontos
It comes with a delay of almost two months, but Ljubljana will still become the scene of a special European debut in the career of Serbian international Vladimir Lucic.
On Wednesday night, the 24-year-old small forward is to step out at Stozice Arena in the Slovenian capital in what will be the first game on the road in the Eurocup, as his new club, Valencia Basket, take on hosts Union Olimpija Ljubljana.
Lucic has played on this court and against Ljubljana several times during the first five years of his professional career, while defending the colours of ABA Adriatic League champions Partizan Belgrade.
But last September he missed out on what was supposed to be the highlight of his year, precisely in Ljubljana.
Ironically, Slovenia was where the realisation that he might miss out on the big event came to Lucic last summer, although Serbia head coach Dusan Ivkovic held out until three days before the tournament tipped off, to confirm he would not be included in the team.
"I felt some problem with my back while at Partizan, I think already in the end of February," Lucic explained to fibaeurope.com on the eve of his return to Ljubljana.
"But up until the first [friendly] game with the national team it was fine.
"I did all the practices, the pre-season, but on the night before the first game of a [warm-up] tournament in Slovenia, I felt the same pain.
"Ever since that day I was not well, until practically two weeks or maybe a month ago."
"I tried to play, I tried to go to the EuroBasket but that thing kept me away from the court more than I expected."
Having come to terms with the idea gradually, Lucic got on smoothly with experiencing the EuroBasket as a spectator.
"I followed every game, I was with the team," he said without a hint of bitterness in his voice.
"I had spent time in the past and practically the entire summer with these guys, a lot of them are very good friends of mine so I was with them.
"I think the national team did a good job, there were a lot of young guys on that team, the main target was to qualify for the World Championship and they achieved that.
The fact that Ivkovic's Serbia, with six players below the age of 22 on their roster, reached the quarter-final stage of the EuroBasket, was billed by many as one of the major surprises of the tournament.
Lucic, who had a privileged view on the inner workings of the team, was not among them.
"I trusted in that team because I knew how hard we played in preparation," the Belgrade native said.
"I think we started playing warm-up games first, maybe on the same day as Montenegro, we played a lot of games.
"There were a lot of young and talented players on that team who wanted to prove themselves.
|Vladimir Lucic joined Valencia Basket from Serbian powerhouse Partizan Belgrade|
EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN
Lucic signed for Valencia in the summer and has already played in three games with his new club after the end of his rehabilitation, in what is his first year away from the familiar surroundings of Belgrade.
As a Generation-Y basketball player, he does not seem to be in need of a long adaptation process.
"The biggest difference is the weather, for sure," Lucic says with a smile.
"I like it that it's more sunny here and Valencia is a wonderful city.
"In terms of basketball I am still trying to find myself, especially offensively, after three months of injuries, missing practices and games.
"I think it's normal to have ups and downs during the game but I hope that as soon as possible it will be better."
Physically, the young forward now feels 100% and seems more than ready to pick up the challenge of a maiden season in the Spanish Liga Endesa.
"Luckily the physiotherapists in Valencia were very good, they knew my problem and they helped me a lot, so now I am ok," he stated.
"I came here to win some trophies, I am used to that because in the past five years with Partizan I won a lot and I want to continue that.
"I think we have a very good team, we can play with the best teams in Spain.
"However there are a lot of games this season, especially with the changes in the Eurocup, so for sure there will be up and downs [in performance].
"But if we stay without injuries, I think we can do a lot this year.
"[As for the Serbian] national team, I hope that I will have no more problems with my back or any other injuries and I will make it back in the team again."