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Bjelica: ''I love to play at home and I can't wait to do it again, soon''
BELGRADE (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers) - Nemanja Bjelica's absence from Serbia's national team because of injuries did not prevent the powerhouse from reaching the Final of both the 2016 Olympics and FIBA EuroBasket 2017.
Make no mistake, though, that his return to the squad for the third window of the FIBA Basketball World Cup European Qualifiers would add quality to the lineup, both in terms of talent and leadership.
"WE ALL KNOW HOW SERBIANS LOVE THEIR NATIONAL TEAM AND BASKETBALL, SO EVERY GAME AT HOME IS A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE." Bjelica
Bjelica was not just a member of a terrific Serbia squad every summer from 2009 to 2015. He was a linchpin in the team, someone that routinely made big plays on both offense and defense.
He certainly made his mark on the team the last time he played for Serbia. In the FIBA EuroBasket Group Phase in Berlin nearly three years ago, Bjelica had a hugely impressive double-double in a victory over eventual champions Spain and also a game-winning shot against Germany.
"Playing with the national team is very important and I really enjoy doing so, so yes, I would like to help my teammates to have more wins this summer and go to the Second Round (of the World Cup Qualifiers) in the best dynamic," he said.
"We have one tough game at Georgia (June 29), which is a team that is hard to beat on their soil and one last at home against Germany (July 2). This one can be a game changer, as it is kind of a final for us to reach the first place of the group."
“BEING SUPPORTED BY THOUSANDS OF FANS IS THE BEST, AND THIS UNITY AROUND THE NATIONAL TEAM GIVES US A LOT OF EXTRA ENERGY." Bjelica
When asked what he expected for Serbia against Germany, Bjelica smiled and answered: "Well, a win, also huge support and a very noisy crowd to push us during the whole game. We all know how Serbians love their national team and basketball, so every game at home is a unique experience.
After winning their first two Qualifiers against Austria and Georgia in November, Serbia endured a very difficult February. They first suffered a 79-74 loss at Germany and then narrowly beat Austria, winning 82-81 in Schwechat. The upcoming clash with the Germans is clearly one that Bjelica is eager to be a part of.
"I love to play at home," he said, "and I can't wait to do it again, soon. Being supported by thousands of fans is the best, and this unity around the national team gives us a lot of extra energy."
Bjelica got to experience the NBA Play-Offs for the first time after his Minnesota Timberwolves finished eighth in the Western Conference this season, yet his Serbia teammate Milos Teodosic missed out in his rookie campaign after the Los Angeles Clippers came in 10th. Bjelica says that Teodosic, who also is expected back in the national team lineup for the third window after missing the games in November and February, had a good year.
Bjelica loves to be on the floor with Milos Teodosic
"I think he did great things," Bjelica said. "He is still underrated in my opinion because he got here at a later age than most of the European players, and lot of people haven't seen his full potential so far in the NBA.
"In the games he played, you could tell that he had a great impact on his team. You can see quickly that when he is on the court, his teammates love to play with a guy like him as he passes the ball and reads the game so well.
"He was the best player in Europe and he is one of the most skilled point guards in the game."
"WE HAVE TO QUALIFY FOR CHINA 2019 AND THE GOAL THERE WOULD BE TO KEEP WINNING AND BE COMPETITIVE. WE HAVE THE TALENT AND WE ARE AMBITIOUS.” Bjelica
Serbia, perhaps more than any other national side in Europe, are desperate to win a title.
In 2014, Djordjevic's first summer at the helm, Serbia reached the FIBA Basketball World Cup Final in Madrid before falling against the USA, and they have had to settle for second-place finishes the last two years, both at the 2016 Rio Olympics and at the 2017 FIBA EuroBasket.
"It feels good to have won a couple of medals in recent years and to have shown the world that Serbia is back among the best teams of the world," Bjelica said. "But we still have a lot of room for improvement and we always want more.
"We have to qualify for China 2019 and the goal there would be to keep winning and be competitive. We have the talent and we are ambitious. We want to reach the highest level we can reach and fight for medals and titles. We have exciting years ahead of us and I am looking forward to it."