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Serbian star Pecarski: ''No reason not to believe in a U19 World Cup title''
BELGRADE (Serbia) - Marko Pecarski will be playing on the global stage for the first time at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup 2019 but the star center talent sees no reason why European U18 champions Serbia should not believe in winning the title in Greece this summer.
Pecarski was the MVP at the FIBA U18 European Championship 2018, which was Serbia’s second straight U18 continental trophy - with the 6ft 10in (2.08m) big man winning both titles in 2017 and 2018. The crown last summer meant Pecarski would get a chance to play in a World Cup for the first time.
"I am very excited to play a World Cup for the first time. We’ve been the best team in Europe for the last two years and I think it will be interesting to see how far we can get at the world level," said Pecarski, who averaged 24.7 points and 11.0 rebounds at the 2018 U18 tournament after collecting 12.6 points and 8.3 rebounds in 2017.
Pecarski, whose father Miroslav Pecarski won a EuroLeague, Saporta Cup and Korac Cup trophy as a player, missed a chance to play at the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup 2016 as Serbia finished eighth at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015 - where he played as a bottom-level player.
The Partizan Belgrade talent also helped Serbia return to the U19 World Cup after missing the 2017 tournament in Cairo.
"I think it is very important because this is a great generation that deserves this opportunity, and we want to show our full potential on the biggest stage," Pecarski said.
Serbia have done quite well at the U19 World Cup in the past - winning the title in 2007 and taking second in 2011 and 2013. But Pecarski said he and team does not feel pressure to get back to the podium.
"There is not that kind of pressure. We know what we are capable of, so we will just try to play our basketball and let everything come naturally," he said.
The Serbs have been drawn into Group D along with France, Puerto Rico and China. And the game against France will be heated as Serbia beat France in the U18 European Semi-Finals last summer.
"France was our semi-final opponent and we know them very well. They always play physical, team basketball with a lot of running, and we should be well prepared for that. We never played against the other two teams, but we will be ready when the time comes," he said.
Pecarski will undoubtedly be one of the leaders for Serbia along with his fellow big man Filip Petrusev, who joined Pecarski on the FIBA U18 European Championship 2018 All-Star Five by averaging 21.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
"Filip and I have played together for years and we always had a great connection. So I expect us to lead the team until the end and make a great success again," said Pecarski, who played with Petrusev at the 2015 and 2016 U16 European Championships as well as both U18 continental tournaments in 2017 and 2018.
While Pecarski is playing with Partizan, Petrusev is in the United States playing with Gonzaga University - a fact that Pecarski believes will serve Serbia well this summer.
"I think that he is at a great place, and right now his experience can be very helpful eventually against teams like United States or Canada," Pecarski said of Petrusev, who averaged 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds this season including 4 points and 3 rebounds in Gonzaga’s First Round game of the NCAA Tournament.
Serbia are far more than just the big man duo of Pecarski and Petrusev though with some of the other possible leaders being Zoran Paunovic and Luka Cerovina among others.
"I think this is what makes this team good: that every player knows what he has to do to help and what things they do excellently," he said. "We have a lot of talent and besides Filip and me, you never know which player can step up and make a difference."
Pecarski knows what it feels like to be a winner and he knows that team chemistry will be key to Serbia doing well in Greece.
"We must stay together like last summer, keep our focus and effort at the maximum and just play our style of basketball," he said.
And Pecarski was not scared about setting the expectation bar high.
"Our expectations are always the highest. We will prepare as good as we can, give our best and see. I don’t see the reason why we shouldn’t believe in winning a gold medal."