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13 Miroslav RADULJICA (Serbia)
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Raduljica urges Serbia to proceed with caution at home OQT

ATHENS (2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments) - He might be affectionately nicknamed 'bear' by team-mates for his imposing physique, but Miroslav Raduljica is an amiable and witty person that would never respond with a menacing look and a growl whenever he hears something he doesn't like or agree with.

Like, for example, that Serbia are the overwhelming favourites in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) they will host in Belgrade from 4-9 July and where they will face Angola and Puerto Rico in Group A and potentially match up later against Japan, Czech Republic or Latvia.

"I've heard people saying it's an easy draw for us, but I don't think so," the 28-year-old told FIBA.com. "I don't know who are the favourites.

My opinion is that we need to be careful, there are teams like Latvia and Czech Republic, which are getting better every year. I am more concerned about the European teams, maybe because I know them better, but nowadays in basketball anyone can beat anyone else. - Raduljica

"So I would want us to be cautious until the last second of the last game," he warned. "Ever since our group got together on the national team a few years ago we have been taking it step by step.

"I am sure this is what we will do in July once again and we'll only focus on the next opponent each time."

Raduljica will not entertain any thoughts about his summer beyond the Belgrade OQT because, he says, playing at the Rio Games is right now nothing but a wish which nobody knows if it will come true.

If the 2.13m big man is so reluctant to accept the favourite's label which many attach to Serbia, it is partly because he knows it brings no benefit to his team. In 2014, he returned to a national team following a five-year absence and Serbia sort of flew under the radar until the semi-finals of the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

The big tournament in Spain ended with Aleksandar Djordjevic's team celebrating with a second-place finish.

In the wake of that success, Serbia entered EuroBasket 2015 last September as hot favourites and rode a seven-game winning streak into the Semi-Finals, but lost their last two games to miss out on a podium finish.

There was a common thread however in both those major tournaments and the Raduljica believes it is this Serbian team's most important asset.

We know each other very well because we have been playing together for a long time. We are a group of very good individuals who know how to play like a team and behaves like a family. - Raduljica

"This is why whatever new players join the team this summer, it will be easy for them to fit in, they will blend with the team seamlessly even though there is not much time for preparation after the club leagues end and the guys come back from various countries," he explained.

Do these Serbian players already imagine what the crowd's reception will be like when they step out on 4 July in Belgrade Arena, the iconic basketball venue with a 22,000-seat capacity?

"I don't have to imagine it, I know exactly what it's going to be like," Raduljica said with a smile. "I played a few games there when I used to play in Serbia (at FMP and Partizan Belgrade) and I know these fans cannot wait for this, they cannot wait to see us play there."

He looks forward to playing in what he calls a fortress and welcoming fans and opponents alike.

"It's very satisfying for us to get the chance to play this tournament in front of our fans and trust me, there is going to be a lot, really a lot of them in the arena.

"People in Serbia love basketball so much that everybody is going to have a great time."