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Serbia great Ivkovic hails importance of home games, opportunities for young players in European Qualifiers
BELGRADE (Serbia) - Dusan Ivkovic, one of Europe's finest ever coaches, says the European Qualifiers for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 have served as a shot in the arm for Serbian basketball.
The legendary Ivkovic, who guided Yugoslavia to the title at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 29 years ago in Argentina and coached Serbia as recently as FIBA EuroBasket 2013, has highlighted the importance of numerous Serbian players getting to experience the feeling of competing in front of their home crowd.
"IT'S GOOD THAT 30 PLAYERS PARTICIPATED IN THESE QUALIFIERS. THIS IS GOOD FOR BASKETBALL'S POPULARIZATION. SO MANY PLAYERS CAME, SO MANY GAMES WERE PLAYED IN FRONT OF HOME CROWDS."
"It's good that 30 players participated in these Qualifiers," Ivkovic, a FIBA Hall of Fame Inductee (Class of 2017), said to SOS Kanal during Serbia's final home game of the European Qualifiers against Israel, which the hosts won 97-76 to clinch their place at this summer's 32-team World Cup in China.
"This is good for basketball's popularization," Ivkovic went on, "so many players came, so many games were played in front of home crowds, and [there was no need] to wait [for] 30 years to host some national team games."
Among those to play in the last window was Milos Teodosic, one of international basketball's biggest stars of the past decade who has been named in tournament All-Star Fives at past FIBA Basketball World Cups and FIBA EuroBaskets. Fans relished the opportunity of seeing the Serbian point guard in action.
Many players chomping at the bit to play for the country raised eyebrows with their performances.
They made timely contributions, as Aleksa Avramovic did just over a year ago in an 82-81 win at Austria with a game-winning jump shot.
The European Qualifiers were played in six windows. Serbia had home games against Austria, Georgia, Germany, Estonia, Greece and Israel. Five games were played in Belgrade and one in Novi Sad.
"This is a beautiful ambiance," Ivkovic said. "People have to understand we are a small country and we have to work extremely well.
"When we produced great players, we had one of the strongest national leagues in Europe."
While Serbian basketball has produced many of Europe's top players over the years, Ikvovic did warn it now has hurdles to clear, saying: "Today, our basketball league is on an extremely low level."
Giving the national team more attention throughout the year is one proven way to boost the national league.
Serbia finished runners-up at the last FIBA Basketball World Cup in 2014. The draw for this summer's event will take place on March 16 in Shenzhen, China.