|Predrag Samardziski has been thrust into a leadership role in 2015|
By David Hein
Just playing on Europe's biggest stage used to be a huge accomplishment for The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. But EuroBasket 2015 is the fourth straight continental championship for the Balkan country. And it's the fourth straight EuroBasket for center Predrag Samardziski.
Despite being one of the elder statesmen on the team, the MZT Skopje Aerodome big man Samardziski is still kind of getting used to being a leader.
"It's a completely different role for me now. It's a little bit strange, but I think it will be okay," said Samardziski, who played in his first EuroBasket in 2009 in Poland.
"I remember the first one, I was the youngest guy on the team. In 2011, I remember I was still one of the youngest guys on the team. Now I'm the second oldest guy on the team," added the 29-year-old, who is younger only than 35-year-old guard Vlado Ilievski.
"I'm just trying to be a good leader on and off the court."
Samardziski struggled in MKD's first game at EuroBasket 2015, hitting just 1-of-9 shots in scoring five points to go with six rebounds, three assists and a steal before fouling out after 21 minutes of action against Greece.
"We can say that he is one of the leaders of this generation. He has a right to have a bad night. Unfortunately it was tonight against Greece," MKD head coach Marjan Srbinovski said.
|Samardziski is full of praise for his young team-mate Ljubomir Mladenovski|
"He's very positive and in the next games he will lead us to victories," added playmaker Aleksandar Kostoski.
Samardziski for his part said one of his personal goals at EuroBasket 2015 is to help 20-year-old center Ljubomir Mladenovski develop into a great player.
"For me it's an honour to be the second-oldest guy on the team, especially because we have a really talented young big man in my position. I want to be a mentor for him. This is going to be his first EuroBasket, and I hope in years to come you will be asking him about playing in his fourth consecutive EuroBasket."
Mladenovski, who starred for MKD at the U20 European Championship Division B, played three minutes against Greece, collecting one assist.
"Unfortunately for him, the MKD league is not that followed. Not many players or coaches follow him, but if he gets the chance to play at this championship, he's going to show that for his size, he's unbelievably athletic. For a big man, he can run and jump," Samardziski said of his team-mate at MZT Skopje Mladenovski.
"I'm hoping I can help him with some of my experiences from through the years. I hope he becomes one of the best big men in the league for years to come because he's got the talent for that."
Despite the loss to start Group C in Zagreb, MKD's goal to reach the knockout stage in Lille is still within reach. But it will not be easy for Samardziski and his team-mates.
"Everybody is aware that everybody plays basketball. Nobody is going to win a game without working. Everybody knows if you play good, if you play your heart out, you always have a chance to win, no matter who you play against. If you underestimate the opponent and he plays 100% you have no chance of winning," said Samardziski, who experienced the country's biggest success in finishing fourth at EuroBasket 2011.
But this team is different than the one four years ago.
"We have experience but we're going to be underestimated even more than we were in Lithuania. We have to accept that role and show that we can play," the big man said.
Samardziski, who has played for clubs such as Partizan Belgrade, Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and TED Ankara, has already shown over the years that he can play as a younger player. Now he is being called upon to play as an older leader.