|23 June 2013|
EUROBASKET WOMEN 2013
By Joe Hewison
|Serbia head coach Marina Maljkovic's intuition has proved right to date|
It would be fair to say that, outside the Serbian camp, expectations were not high for Marina Maljkovic's team when they arrived in France without several key players and not having qualified for the quarter-finals since 2003.
This stance appeared strengthened when the Serbs lost their opening two games to Great Britain and France.
But as Maljkovic's ‘intuition' told her, this hungry team was far from done.
They went on to beat Latvia in ‘a win-or-go-home' first round decider before beating more established sides in Belarus, Croatia and the Czech Republic, to not only reach the last eight, but do so as runners up in Group F.
They are not getting carried away however.
"It seems like I have really good intuition," said the Serbia play-caller, who also coaches club side Partizan Galenika, where five of the national team stars play domestically.
"Because if you remember I said a few days ago that my intuition told me that after beating Belarus, that our job here wasn't finished.
"We are a team that is in progress. The players are so hungry to show what they can do and in all the upcoming games, that is how we are going to play because this the only way a new team like us can play, like a junior team, to fight hard and never stop.
"We have both feet firmly on the ground."
The notion that this is a team that must ‘fight' to win and close the gap in terms of ability is part of their appeal, according to all-action captain Milica Dabovic.
She said: "We work hard on the court all the time, that's why people love us. We fight for the entire 40 minutes.
"Everybody thinks that we are the last team in this tournament but people can see now that we are not anymore.
|"We work hard on the court all the time, that's why people for us" - Milica Dabovic |
"Everybody says, ‘OK, Serbia is going home'. But the people in Serbia also believe in us and they don't care if we lose or not, they are happy as long as we give our all play with our hearts."
One of the most impressive facets of Serbia's play has been their capacity to tailor their approach to specific opponents.
They imposed a slow tempo on Belarus before hassling and harrying Croatia and the Czech Republic with high presses.
It is not just Serbia's fans back home that have been taken in by their performances thus far.
After his team became the latest to suffer at the expense of Serbia's high intensity, Czech Republic Head Coach Lubor Blazek said: "For me the style of basketball they play is very attractive, they have good quality players.
"To be honest, they are a team I didn't know too much about until recently. I don't know when the Czech Republic last played Serbia. But I have to say this a great success for Serbia."
But while recognition from other coaches is all well and good, it is the respect they deserve at home that Maljkovic craves.
She said: "I always say to my players, when you give everything you have and play from the heart then I am happy so we continue in the same manner because that brought us here.
"Everyone is waking up in Serbia. It's such an effect that we are having here, so step-by-step, very patiently, we are very hungry to win and to show that my players can really play ball.
"We want Serbia to be on the serious women's basketball map."
They are doing a good job of that so far and if they can navigate their way past the final eight, Serbia will soon be making themselves known at the FIBA World Championship too.
But first Serbia, then the world.