Bjelica Plays Hard And With Pride

17 April 2012

14. Mirza Begic (Slovenia), 8. Nemanja Bjelica (Serbia)
Nemanja Bjelica was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2010.

Nemanja Bjelica lights up like a Christmas tree when he's asked about his unveiling by the Minnesota Timberwolves at a press conference a couple of years ago.

There he was, the NBA draft pick sitting on a stage and answering questions by an American media corps that knew very little about the tall, long player who had been making his mark in European ball and with Serbia's national side.

"I was dreaming," the 2.09 m Bjelica said to Basketball World News.

"I was so happy."

While Bjelica, who turns 24 in May, has yet to play for the Timberwolves, don't be surprised if he does in the near future.

The fact that other Europeans have done well with the team could help him.

Performances by Montenegro's Nikola Pekovic and Spain's Ricky Rubio have helped the team blossom.

Pekovic has been terrific in this, his second season.

As for Rubio, the point guard was putting together an amazing rookie season but went down with a knee injury last month.

The playmaker will come back, though, and Pekovic will continue to be a force.

Bjelica would love to be a part of it.

"Of course," he said.

"Minnesota have a lot of European players and they play excellent, especially Pekovic and Rubio this year. They have proved they can play in the NBA.

"The NBA is a dream for every player, but I'm here (Vitoria, Spain) now and my mind is only here.

"After that, we'll see.

"I hope that one day, I can play there."



Bjelica is wearing the shirt of Caja Laboral and playing for one of the best coaches in the game in Dusko Ivanovic.

While the tactician is demanding and often wears an unforgiving look during games, Bjelica said: "He's a very good coach, and a very good person.

"He controls everything."

The Liga Endesa play-offs are just around the corner and Bjelica wants to do his part in helping Caja Laboral challenge for another title.

"I just hope that I will be healthy," he said.

"That's the most important thing and after that, we'll see.

"Everything depends on the coach. I will wait for my opportunity, practice very hard."



After the season, Bjelica will once again don the Serbia jersey, something he's done each year since 2009, when he helped the national team claim a surprise silver medal at the EuroBasket in Poland.

The following year, he had a role in the Serbia team that went on an impressive run to the World Championship Semi-Finals in Turkey.

Last year, he was with a Serbia side that came up short of the Semi-Finals.

Representing his nation is something that Bjelica takes very seriously.

"This is something else," he said.

"I play for my country, my people - the place where I was born.

"It's very important for me and for everyone who plays for Serbia."

Serbia Head Coach Dusan Ivkovic
Bjelica is happy Dusan Ivkovic will continue to coach the Serbian national team.

Bjelica is thrilled that coach Dusan Ivkovic has decided to continue with the team, too.

His contract expired after last year's EuroBasket but the basketball federation was able to convince him to continue.

"He stayed so we'll be much better, one year older," Bjelica said.

"We just won't play at the Olympics.

"But we want to improve our game this summer."

Serbia will go up against Montenegro, Israel, Estonia, Iceland and the Slovak Republic in Group A.

Fitness is key for Bjelica because he was hurt and missed the end of last season with Caja Laboral.

He did not have an ideal build-up to EuroBasket 2011.

"I didn't play for three months last year when I was hurt and the coach (Ivkovic) waited for me for one month," Bjelica said.

"But I will be ready for this summer and the qualifications."


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