|"She brings a lot to the team with this experience" - Serbia coach Radenko Varagic on Natasa Kovacevic|
It is hard to find a player with more experience at youth level than Serbian star forward Natasa Kovacevic.
She might have only turned 19 this past May, but Kovacevic is already playing in her seventh FIBA Europe youth competition.
The third-best scorer in the tournament after the First Round games with 17.3 points, Kovacevic signed earlier this summer with Euroleague Women side Uni Gyor after splitting the last season between playing for Vozdovac and Red Star Belgrade in her native Serbia.
She is considered one of the pearls of Serbian basketball, in a country that made headlines late last month with the breakthrough performance of their senior national team who went on to finish fourth at EuroBasket Women.
Natasa showed promise at a very early age, and started her string of participations for the national team in 2008, when she was only 14 years old playing at the U16 European Championship Women.
In the five years since then, and up to the Second Round in Samsun, Kovacevic has scored a remarkable total of 635 points in 51 career games at youth competitions.
"She brings a lot to the team with this experience", says Serbia coach Radenko Varagic.
"You can feel it in her game, in her behaviour, in everything. There are three or four leaders of this team, and Natasa is definitely one of the leaders on and off the court."
She surely got some of her basketball genes from her mother Natalija Bacanovic, a former Yugoslav national team player, and a European champion with Red Star Belgrade in 1979.
In addition, her father played handball, and coming from a family where both parents were athletes, Natasa was simply destined to play sports.
"I followed my mother", she says.
|Kovacevic is remarkably playing in her seventh FIBA Europe youth tournament for Serbia|
"Natasa is a player who keeps the game of basketball in her fingertips. She is so lucid, and understands the game so well. Of course she is young and has to work on her continuity, but I believe she has already started to trace her path to becoming a great player," claims coach Varagic.
The first medal for Natasa came last summer when Serbia beat the Netherlands to win bronze at the U18 European Championship Women. This year, it was the Netherlands that crushed Serbia in the opening game in Samsun.
However, Serbs bounced right back, and in great part thanks to Kovacevic who piled on 20 points along with eight rebounds and four steals, helping her team beat Belarus 73-53 in a must-win game. She followed it up with 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists in a 73-61 win against Ukraine that clinched Serbia a place in the Second Round.
"We really did not manage to get it together the first game, but the next two games we really played as a team. I was just proud to be a part of it," explains Natasa, staying modest despite being the team's top scorer.
However, she is aware that she is expected to carry a large part of the burden.
"The responsibility comes by itself. I cannot run away from it, and I don't want to. I play the best I can, but my teammates really help me out. They are unbelievable."
Later this summer she will also play at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship for Women in Lithuania, but Natasa keeps her focus on the event in Samsun where she and the U20 Serbia team want to improve on their 11th place finish from 2012 in Debrecen.
The Serbs' first aim is the quarterfinals, and to get there, they will next have to deal with Spain, Slovak Republic and Greece in Group E.
"If we play and fight like we have in the last two games, we have a chance to beat any team in the tournament. Even Spain. I think we can beat them and get to the quarterfinals."
But that would not be enough to satisfy Natasa Kovacevic. "The goal is to win a medal. It always is."