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Kalinic expects Serbia to play even better in Rio
BELGRADE (2016 Rio Olympics) - The FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) in Belgrade was an obvious milestone in the sporting career of every player for hosts Serbia, as the men's national team earned its first-ever ticket to the Olympics since the Balkan country became an independent state.
But it had a particular significance to Nikola Kalinic who enjoyed arguably his best-ever tournament in a Serbian jersey, finishing as the third-highest ranked player on the team with an average efficiency rating of 11.2, courtesy of his 8.8 points, 1.9 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.5 rebounds per game.
The 24-year-old forward spoke to FIBA.com and although he remained relatively tight-lipped about Serbia's goals at Rio 2016, he did not hide his optimism.
FIBA.com: You look relieved. Can you explain just how important earning the ticket to Rio was for you and the team?
Kalinic: It feels great, I feel that we are really blessed to be going there because this took a long time for us to achieve. Last September we came close but we lost the [FIBA EuroBasket 2015] Semi-Final to Lithuania. After losing that game we could not miss the second chance, that's what was on my mind and I think that's what was on the mind of the other guys too. It was a great victory for us, a terrific game in front of a terrific crowd. We are really happy, we cannot wait for the Olympics to start.
FIBA.com: When you were growing up and watching the Olympics, did you ever think that one day you would be among the participating athletes?
Kalinic: I imagined myself playing at the Olympics as a kid. It is the dream of every player because you see as a kid all those amazing athletes enter the stadium in the Opening Ceremony and then you hear all those great stories from other athletes who've been there and you just feel that you need to experience this atmosphere for yourself. You want to be there.
FIBA.com: Serbia played great basketball during the OQT. Do you think that as a team you have already figured out everything and you should employ the same style of play in Rio?
Kalinic: I think this isn't the best we can play, we have not reached our full potential. Even though we had a great shooting performance we can be even better. Our true preparation starts now, we will go to a mountain in Serbia for conditioning and then we will go to a tournament in Argentina to be really prepared the best we can be for the Olympics.
FIBA.com: How high can this even better Serbia aim in Rio?
Kalinic: I cannot promise anything else than that we will fight with all our heart, all our energy, all our strength and I hope that we will at least make the quarter-finals or (he pauses) something like that.