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Jokic hopes to create another great Olympic moment for Serbia
DENVER (United States) - Nikola Jokic and Serbia are intent on setting the record straight next summer and redeeming themselves after not delivering on the hype at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019. The Balkan giants are aiming to first qualify for the Olympics and then do well at the Tokyo Games.
Jokic and the national team had their sights set on the podium this summer, but their hopes were dashed in a Quarter-Final defeat to Argentina; they ended up fifth at FIBA's flagship event.
Next summer, Serbia will host one of the four FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in Belgrade , which runs from June 23 to June 28. If they win the six-team event, the national team will travel to Japan for the Summer Games.
"It's not ideal to have a bad tournament like the one we had last summer, but now we have to focus on the future," Jokic said. "I am confident, I know we will win very soon.
"We wanted to win the world title, and we didn't do well during the second part of the tournament so we didn't win anything."
"WE'RE ONE OF THE BEST TEAMS IN THE WORLD AND WE WILL SHOW IT AGAIN VERY SOON."
"We're going to learn from this. We're going to come back better. We're all very talented players and we're going to do better very soon. Us having a bad tournament doesn't mean that Serbia isn't a very competitive national team anymore. We're one of the best teams in the world and we will show it again very soon.
"We have a lot of good players, we have a very good spirit of competitiveness and we'll come back better."
Serbia hosted and won one of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in 2016 in Belgrade and used it as a launchpad for a run to the silver medal at the Rio de Janeiro Games.
"It was a fantastic experience, one of the best ones of my career so far," Jokic, now 24, said.
"It was my first time playing with the senior national team, and I really felt comfortable with the guys. Playing at home, I wanted to help the team qualify for Rio 2016 by being the best player I could be. We played very well, and we were able to step up our game game after game."
Jokic did show the best version of himself in Belgrade, dominating the field with average of 17.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He was named MVP of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade.
"It wasn't easy as every team we faced competed with a lot of intensity and also wanted to get the ticket to the Olympics, but we did show character and a great fighting spirit to achieve our goal of qualifying and going to Rio," he said.
"I really want us to do the same next summer at home, and qualify for Tokyo 2020. We'll use the 2016 experience to do the same in the next couple of months at home."
With Serbia coming up short of their aim at he World Cup in China, Jokic knows concentration, effort and determination must be at the maximum in the summer to come.
They will take on the Dominican Republic and New Zealand in Group A with Italy, Puerto Rico and Senegal in Group B.
"THE OLYMPICS IS THE GOAL FOR EVERY TEAM THAT IS COMPETING AT THE OQTS AND WE WILL HAVE TO BRING OUR A GAME."
Serbia will also go into battle under a new coach, Slovenia's FIBA EuroBasket 2017-title winning boss Igor Kokoskov. A Serbian, Kokoskov served as an assistant to former Serbia and Montenegro coach Zeljko Obradovic at the 2004 Olympics and FIBA EuroBasket 2005.
"We have to take it one step at a time," Jokic said. "First, we have to win every game at the OQT at home, that is the first stage of the 'Olympic mission'. It's going to be intense and very competitive, and we can't think that we already granted our ticket because we are playing at home.
"The fight for the ticket for Tokyo 2020 is going to be very intense, and every game is going to be a tough battle. The Olympics is the goal for every team that is competing at the OQTs and we will have to bring our A-game."
Jokic admits the memories of not only making it to Brazil but progressing to the Final in 2016 are so good that he cannot entertain the thought of missing out on Japan.
Jokic wants to live the Olympic experience again after shining for Serbia at Rio 2016
"The Olympic Games is such a fantastic tournament to compete in, such a great experience," he said. "We won the silver in 2016, and it was such a great achievement for Serbian basketball.
"First thing first, I would like to have Serbia qualify for the Olympics, and to be on that world stage alongside our many talented athletes of our country. Serbians love the Olympics, and we would like to be there and try to create another great Olympic moment next summer."