By Paul Nilsen
As one of the brightest talents in European basketball and having been handed a dream move to Spartak Moscow, 21 year old Serbian star Jelena Milovanovic should probably be smiling from ear to ear. However even this happy ending to a turbulent twelve months can't mask the frustration of what has been a very bumpy year indeed for the forward.
Having arrived in Latvia for Eurobasket Women 2009 floating on cloud nine after leading MKB EuroLeasing to a surprise appearance at EuroLeague Women Final Four last April, things quickly turned sour.
The participation of Serbia at the tournament lasted a paltry 72 hours and when she returned to Hungary to prepare for the 2010-11 season, it wasn't long before she was sidelined with a serious injury meaning she missed most of the subsequent Euroleague Women campaign.
|The move to Spartak means Jelena will get to play with fellow Serbian Sonja Petrovic.|
Now Milovanovic has revealed she is yet to decide whether she will be available to fire Serbia to another appearance at EuroBasket Women although whether she plays or not, she claims the team must learn from their shocking performances last year.
"I need some rest before starting anything this summer because I have not had a great season. My body needs some rest and I still don't know if I will be ready to help Serbia this summer!"
"I think last year, in that time we really were not ready for a tournament like that and that's why we came back after just three game days! I hope that is not going to happen again and we must learn from that and make better results."
New coach Miodrag Veskovic will of course be hoping and praying his prize asset is available as things already look tough on paper against Romania, Israel and Latvia. If Milovanovic doesn't commit then it becomes even more of a mountain to climb since her firepower would be sorely missed.
The frustration of crashing out with barely a whimper last year has also been magnified by the success of the Serbian men who bagged a silver medal and according to Milovanovic, the failure at Eurobasket Women has made it even harder to get Womens basketball taken more seriously in her homeland.
"That is the thing I don't like in Serbia. There are a lot of talented girls, unfortunately less now then it was before but we still have them - but I guess people in Serbia don't like Womens basketball"
"Maybe it is because in senior championships we have never had any good results and maybe that could be the biggest reason. Also because of no results, young girls don't prefer playing basketball."
"I really wish and hope we will still have some good players in the future - as we have had in the recent past!
Perhaps it is not too difficult to understand why Milovanovic feels the way she does. After all, in addition to the catastrophic showing by her National team, she also suffered an injury ridden season in Sopron which was in stark contrast to her first two glittering years in Hungary.
She explained, "Last year wasn't good for anyone from the team! Things happening, a lot of injures came at not really a good time and we couldn't work anything out or make good results!"
"I don't really want to say that it was disappointing but it wasn't on the level I was preparing for. Unfortunately the hand injury came when it was the most important for my team and me to make the top sixteen in EuroLeague Women."
"But still after victory in Spain we had the chance to make it but we lost to Prague at home and so I can say it wasn't great season!"
"At least my first and second seasons were really good for my team and for me too! Especially 2008/09 season when we made Final Four for the first time in the clubs history! I can say I had a great time there."
At least from a club perspective Milovanovic is now feeling more positive after sealing her move to four time ELW champions Spartak and has already contemplated being part of a new chapter in Moscow as the new recruits look to continue the clubs unprecedented success.
"I'm looking forward to going to Moscow as it is a big challenge for me. I will be practicing with some of the best players in the world and this is what gives me motivation to show myself in the best possible way"
"There is always a little pressure and by losing Taurasi we know that is going to be harder. It is the same case because we lost Fowles and McCarvile too. However I'm sure we going to try our best and we might make some impossible things happen."
Adding a great deal of comfort for Milovanovic will be the presence of fellow Serbian Sonja Petrovic at Spartak who will not only help with the transition but also offer a sympathetic ear.
The pair have more in common than merely being the most talented players to have emerged together through the youth ranks to the senior National team. For Petrovic also suffered from serious injury woes last season but this time around the pair are looking to ensure some real Serbian chemistry for the reigning EuroLeague Women champions.
"It is great having Sonja as my team-mate in Moscow! We were both unlucky last year with injuries but I hope she is going to recover between now and the start of the new season."
"I always enjoy playing with her as everyone could always see during youth Championships when we were in the top teams!"