|Dusko Savanovic has a basketball IQ that others can only envy|
By Dimitris Kontos
If basketball was exclusively about speed and physicality, Dusko Savanovic would not stand a snowball's chance on a hot July day in Belgrade to play at the top level.
Despite that, the Serbian power forward, now a few months shy of his 30th birthday, developed and progressed steadily throughout his career to the point of becoming a player that every European coach would want on his team.
On the court, Savanovic stands out for his high basketball IQ and the way he can read the game, but also for his perseverance, his work ethic and his passion for the game.
Off the court he talks blazingly fast, but still nowhere near close to the speed of his train of thought, and he does not mince words as he connects all the dots with an ease than many professional TV pundits would be jealous of.
One can almost see the wheels in his brain spinning at full speed when it comes to subjects that are close to him, like basketball, Serbia, and his beloved national team.
"There is an expression in Serbian, to 'get in through the small door' and that's exactly what we did, we barely got through," he told FIBAEurope.com about the last time he played for the national team, in the past summer's EuroBasket Qualification Round.
"There were a lot of problems, objectively and subjectively, from my point of view as a player," Savanovic explains.
"Some players did not respond to the call of [coach Dusan] Ivkovic and did not show up because of whatever reasons.
"But for me, the national team is the first thing you have to respect, the biggest thing you have in your career.
"We [those who played] were basically tired, we could not play to our best level, perhaps up to a degree we also underestimated the opponents, to be honest."
Opponents like Montenegro for example, that defeated Serbia both home and away to clinch first spot in Group A with a perfect 10-0 record?
"No, Montenegro actually was the best team there (in the group) but, for example Estonia, we should win there, or Israel away, we should have played better."
COMING OUT OF THE SHADOWS
The 2.04m power forward has analysed last summer's events exhaustively ahead of next summer's big event in Slovenia.
"If we haven't learned anything then we are stupid! We are supposed to learn from our mistakes," he offers.
"But for this next summer [in Slovenia] the first thing is that we will come out of the shadows and I personally think that this is better, than if all of Europe is afraid of you.
"It's better for us be the outsiders, and I prefer it like that, that is my opinion."
"Of course everyone knows who we are [despite Serbia's showing in the Qualification Round] and I don't think that anyone really would prefer to play against us."
Those who, whether they want to or not, will have to play against Serbia in the First Round of the upcoming EuroBasket are their Group B rivals Lithuania; Latvia; and their neighbours, Montenegro, F.Y.R of Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"You know, if I could choose, I don't know if I would choose these opponents," Savanovic admits, focusing on the last three.
"We are all former Yugoslavia [countries], we are different players but belong to the same basketball school, so we know each other very well and maybe that makes it easier or not, it remains to be seen."
|"In our country, basketball is a part of the culture, it's a way of living"|
THE WEIGHT OF SERBIAN TRADITION
The truth however is that the average Serbian fan does not really care who the national team's First Round opponents are, as they have their sights fixed on the business end of the tournament and a podium finish - at the very least.
Savanovic is well aware of the responsibility, the high expectations of the nation and their root cause.
"In our country, basketball is a part of the culture, it's a way of living," he explains.
"So everyone is used to winning, or to being close to the top, for the past...centuries," he saying laughing.
"But there is a new generation now, the previous generation [in the former Yugoslavia] had some of the best players in the world, like (Vlade) Divac, (Zarko) Paspalj, (Toni) Kukoc, (Dejan) Bodiroga. [Those players coinciding,] it was like a... sign from god."
"Now it's different, and we have to be objective; It's hard sometimes to understand the facts, I mean we are good too, but so is everyone else, we are not like that generation.
"How can we be expected to always beat Spain for example, how can you guarantee that?" Savanovic asks rhetorically, before immediately providing his own answer to the question: "They are a great team, they have been playing together for 10 years and they have some of the best players."
"So there is always a big pressure to be the best, but our coach [Ivkovic] is so experienced that he always tries to keep the pressure away from us as much as possible.
"Everyone is like 'we are Serbia, we should beat everyone,' but he knows we are a young team.
"In Serbia this way [of thinking] is normal, we are born with that, we live with that and we fight with that in mind."