|14 June 2013|
EUROBASKET WOMEN 2013
|Serbia Marina Maljkovic has brought five players from her club Partizan Galenika to France |
The time has come for women's basketball to win its place back in the spotlight in Serbia, starting at EuroBasket Women.
That is the rallying cry on the eve of the 2013 tournament from head coach Marina Maljkovic as she prepares to lead an inexperienced group into the first round of the competition in Trelaze, hoping that it will not be a brief stay.
This adventure, she says, has been years in the planning, way beyond the summer of 2009 which proved to be the last time that the Serbs earned their place in the finals. Until now.
Formerly in charge of the country's Under-18 and U19 teams, Maljkovic has been closely involved with the grand project to raise the sport back to the heights it enjoyed over three decades ago. It's not yet complete.
"In all the Balkans - Serbia, Croatia, everywhere, 30 years ago, women's basketball was massively popular," she recounts. "Then with a lack of results, different situations, war, it all went down. Now we're growing it back. At my club, Partizan Galenika, we have five players here plus myself as the coach. They asked us to stay in the country because of the national team and in order to grow women's basketball and create a new system.
"Partizan now has so many fans. I think the best in Europe. In the EuroCup last season, the atmosphere was great. Players were taking photos of it after games because in the past, all we'd had was empty seats. And we hope that connects now to the national team."
Results, and a surprise deep run in France would help win over hearts and minds. Serbia start in Group C, joined with tournament favourites France, as well as Great Britain and Latvia. Second place, at least, is wide open in the eyes of many observers.
For us, says Maljkovic, every point and every game must be fought to the last.
"If you want to be at the top, you have to stand up and work with a great level of discipline," she states. "My team has to fight and hustle because we're outsiders in our group.
"So to win, we have to bring our best, offensively and defensively. It's not about just one thing. But we do have to fight hard."
You have to go back to the days of Yugoslavia to find the last time a European medal went back to the Balkans, when in 1991, before a few of the current Serbia team were born, bronze was claimed.
Since then, nothing. Men's basketball has retained the fervour. Women have been left out. But France, Maljkovic declares, is where the new era begins.
"Over the last 15 years, women's basketball in Serbia has achieved nothing," she states.
"2001 was our last good run when we came fifth and that's not good. So there is pressure on us because these girls have not achieved anything. But there is a great opportunity there.
"We want to be that generation that makes a difference."