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13/07/2014
Jeff Taylor's Eurovision

Tell it like it is, Serbia

Jeff-Taylor-Column

VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - Serbia is the land of the straight talkers when it comes to basketball.

From the players to the coaches, there is directness. They call it like they see it.

When I asked Valencia star Vladimir Lucic recently if Aleksander Djordjevic would find success as the new Serbia coach, he didn't say "yes" or "without a doubt" but instead replied: "I hope so."

When Djordjevic himself spoke this week at the Zira hotel in Belgrade about Serbia's FIBA Basketball World Cup campaign, he didn't offer thoughtless, stereotypical sports mumbo-jumbo.

He spoke true and straight from the heart.

"Personally, I have no fear of challenges, not thinking about failure," he said.

"On the contrary, if you do not aspire to high goals, we will not reach them."

The words of Lucic and Djordjevic sum it up perfectly for me when it comes to Serbia's basketball team in 2014.

After being humiliated in the Quarter-Finals of EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia by Spain, 90-60, and after the departure of the great Dusan Ivkovic as coach, and with a murderous Group Phase schedule at the World Cup that sees the Blues play in Granada against heavyweights Spain, France, Brazil, a dangerous Iran and unknowns Egypt, all bets are off with the Balkan country.

There is hope, but uncertainty.

What is known is that Serbia now have a coach who is as inspirational on the sidelines as he was as a player.

Djordjevic has moxie.

Just as Greece's players all but worshipped the ground that former point guard Panagiotis Giannakis stood on when he coached the team from the 2004 Olympics through the Beijing Games in 2008, the players hold Djordjevic in high esteem because of what he accomplished in the Yugoslavia shirt, and for the various clubs he played for.

"These are the legends of basketball," reserve center Vladimir Stimac told me right after Djordjevic's appointment in late December.

The coach does have a certain messianic quality about him.

If you don't believe that, take into account something else he said in Belgrade this week when the federation unveiled the squad to the media.

"These (players) are the chosen people, the guys who will tomorrow (try) to prove that they deserve every aspect of this shirt," he said.

Now, he has to prove that he has substance and can excel with the X's and O's.

Managing a team during a World Cup game can be brutal.

Ivkovic was a master on the sidelines in 1990, when he led Yugoslavia to the gold medal in Argentina, and in 2010 when he coached Serbia in Turkey.

What else is there to Serbia?

The captain is Nenad Krstic, a player who has performed well enough the past four years that he has distanced himself from an unsavory and embarrassing incident that got him banned before the start of the 2010 FIBA World Championship.

Center Krstic and point guard Milos Teodosic were both hit with suspensions before the event in Turkey for their roles in a melee that broke out in a warm-up game against Greece.

Krstic, who turns 31 on 25 July, is the captain and Teodosic, 27, the vice captain.

"We are all motivated," Krstic said.

"We have a quality team with a lot of young, talented players."

Teodosic is unpredictable, both with regard to the level of performances and his mental approach.

Sadly, the Serbia squad doesn't have Dusko Savanovic, the player who followed a terrific campaign in 2009-10 with Seville in Spain's top flight with a mesmerizing performance at the World Championship four years ago.

He was as important as any player for the national team that year that only narrowly lost to Turkey and finished fourth in the tournament.

Savanovic also started the following year's EuroBasket in Lithuania with a bang.

But he then seemed to have the life sucked out of his game after he missed a layup at the end of overtime that would have beaten France in the opening round.

Djordjevic is enthusiastic and in combative mood but in no way does he subscribe to the theory that a team can only go as far as a coach can taken them.

"The players are the ones who are most responsible for the success of the team and I sincerely hope that we can put them in an ideal position to express their talent, quality and ambition…" he said.

Jeff Taylor

FIBA

FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.

Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor

Jeff Taylor, a North Carolina native and UNC Chapel Hill graduate, has been a journalist since 1990. He started covering international basketball after moving to Europe in 1996. Jeff provides insight and opinion every week about players and teams on the old continent that are causing a buzz.