|Snezana Aleksic: "I think that our players [Montenegro] have huge hearts."|
By Paul Nilsen
When Snezana Aleksic was asked to define what makes a smaller nation like Montenegro punch above their weight on the court, she didn't hesitate in reeling off the key ingredients of success which have secured her country a place at successive EuroBasket Women tournaments.
"I think that our players have huge hearts," said Aleksic.
"We treat every single game we play in for our country as if it is the most important of our careers.
"We also all get along really well, whilst many of us have played together for such a long time now."
The guard is one of the players who has come right through the youth ranks, and she remembers every single building block which has helped to build success at the elite level.
Although when she first started out playing for the national team aged just 15 years old, Montenegro was not even fully independent, and she admitted there were some lows as well as highs on a fascinating journey.
|Snezana Aleksic is now confident her team can improve on their performance from EuroBasket Women 2011|
"Yes, I actually started with the Serbia and Montenegro national team at a very young age," she recalled.
"Eventually I was with the national team of Montenegro and we went on to finish first with a gold medal at the U20 European Championship Division B in Lithuania during 2007.
"We played with a very young team and with a really short bench.
"So, when we found ourselves in Division A, we didn't produce a good performance because we had the youngest team, with only me and Milica Jovanovic who had already played in more serious Championships.
"Nevertheless, they were still all really good experiences for me."
Few rookie EuroBasket Women teams have, or probably ever will make the same kind of instant impact at a Final Round as Montenegro. They largely stole the show - not only making history by simply stepping out and then taking a first ever victory, but also by winning their first six games in a quite astonishing introduction to tournament basketball.
"Yes, it was truly amazing what we did in Poland," smiled Aleksic.
"It was the first time our country came to play at a EuroBasket Women Final Round, and we have such wonderful memories - especially how great we started the competition!
|Snezana Aleksic: "It was truly amazing what we did in Poland."|
"We actually played with very few players since we had a lot of young players on the bench."
Perhaps, rather inevitably, Aleksic and her colleagues ran out of steam at the wrong time and weren't helped by an injury to Iva Perovanovic - something which contributed to being edged out of fifth spot and being denied a place at the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
After exploding onto the scene during the first group stages in Krakow, a loyal and merry band of Montenegro fans headed to Lodz for the final phase but much to the regret of Aleksic, their marathon journey wasn't repaid in the way she would have liked.
She said, "It's true our supporters drove 24 hours to see us, and so it was such a shame we couldn't continue playing as we did at the beginning of the tournament."
Now, with matters turning towards the future, the 23-year-old is trying to figure out what to expect in an interesting Group A which pitches Montenegro against Slovak Republic, Turkey and Ukraine.
"The group is not easy at all," claimed Aleksic.
"Somehow, we always get to play against Turkey and consequently we know them well.
"I guess the most important thing is that we are all healthy and that we prepare well for the tournament.
She added, "I also think that we are more experienced and mature as players now. And to be honest, I think this is what we probably we missed when we stepped out at our first tournament in Poland."
Things are also going solidly for Aleksic at club level. Before she can think too much about the pride of once again pulling on the national team vest, she has duties to fulfill with Dynamo Moscow who recently booked a EuroCup Women Quarter-Final berth.
"Yes, I do feel good here," nodded Aleksic.
"I am happy to be in this very good Dynamo Moscow team with big ambitions."