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Montenegro leader Vlahovic: "We are not done yet"
PODGORICA (FIBA U16 European Championship 2017) - History had hardly been made and Stefan Vlahovic was already making it clear that Montenegro were not yet done with their date with destiny after booking the country's first appearance in the FIBA U16 European Championship Semi-Finals and FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup.
"We are not done," said Vlahovic, who collected 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists as the host team Montenegro downed the 2015 and 2016 second-placed finishers Lithuania in the Quarter-Finals.
Just minutes after the historic victory in front of a boisterous home crowd in Podgorica, Vlahovic was asked about their Semi-Finals opponents Serbia and he said: "We have already started focusing on them. They are a good team, but for sure we will go out and give our best and we are going to try to win."
Despite Vlahovic's clear look ahead, the 6ft 4in (1.93m) shooting guard fully recognized the magnitude of the victory for Montenegro basketball.
"It's a big thing for Montenegro. We have never been to the Semi-Finals so it’s really big," he said. "It's amazing, and I am happy we did this with so much heart."
Vlahovic is the heart and soul of the team. The Podgorica native leads the team in scoring with 16.4 points per game to go with 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 steals. During the fourth quarter against Lithuania, the Podgorica fans were chanting "M-V-P" while Vlahovic was shooting free throws.
"He deserves those chants," said Jovan Kljajic, the Montenegro team captain.
Vlahovic and Kljajic share a major bond along with power forward Bojan Tomasevic, as all three played last summer at the FIBA U16 European Championship as bottom level players. It was the second straight summer for Montenegro in the competition and the third in the last four years and the Balkan country reached the Quarter-Finals. They lost to Spain by 20 points - 75-55 - and then ended up finishing eighth, matching the country's best previous finish in 2010 as hosts of the U16 tournament.
Stefan Vlahovic (right) and Jovan Kljajic playing last summer at the FIBA U16 European Championship.
But another eighth-placed finish was not good enough this time and the hosts showed in the Group Phase that they meant business, beating Spain in a thriller. But then came a 14-point loss to Latvia which sent them to the top half of the bracket.
"We lost our emotions and we were very tired against Latvia," Vlahovic said of the defeat.
A victory over Italy in the Round of 16 was followed by the tough game against Lithuania to make history - just like Vlahovic and the leadership group of players told the other guys on the team.
"Last year we had a tough experience. We told them we need to play together and with heart, and we have to play strong defense and we will win," Vlahovic added.
The focus is now on Serbia and Vlahovic and his teammates would love to end up playing the final game of the tournament before all is said and done.