Jokic: 'Right now, our main focus is the World Cup'
BELGRADE (Serbia) - Nikola Jokic is back in the fold for Serbia ahead of the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers window and is determined to help ensure that they will be playing at next year's tournament.
The two-time reigning NBA MVP is one of the star attractions on the international scene this summer having last represented the national team at the 2019 World Cup in China.
"OUR BIGGEST FOCUS IS ON THE WINDOW AND TO TRY TO QUALIFY FOR THE WORLD CUP."
There are early warning signs that threaten Serbia's participation at the next edition as they head into the Second Round of the Qualifiers in 5th place in their group. And, Jokic hopes to address that situation as they take on Greece and Turkey later this month.
"Right now, our biggest focus is on the window, to try to qualify for the World Cup," Jokic told reporters in training camp in Belgrade. "We need that continuity of being at the big competitions. We must continue something that our previous generations left behind them: play at all competitions.”
Serbia missed out on last year's Olympics in Tokyo after losing to Italy in the Final of the 2020 FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying Tournament on home soil in Belgrade. Their absence was felt in the ensuing tournament and it would have been unthinkable at the start of the campaign that Serbia could fail to qualify for the next World Cup.
The stakes have been raised for the upcoming games, and there was no doubting Jokic's commitment to the cause after declaring his intention to suit up again for the national team.
"I talked to my family about it. It's a completely different feeling when I'm coming here and when I'm going to Denver. Different people, different systems and different feelings.
"We didn't play at the last big competition (Olympics) so the main focus is to go to the World Cup - it's not going to be easy.
"After that, we will see about EuroBasket. Every team is ready, every team is coming to win a medal. So we better go day by day, practice by practice, and be careful. We have to be ready to outplay everyone."
Back-to-back NBA MVP, Nikola Jokic, showed up at Serbia’s training camp and the media absolutely loved it! 🇷🇸— vasiliki_karamouza (@karamouza_vas) August 3, 2022
📸Pedja Milosavljevic/STARSPORT pic.twitter.com/kBYy3CfU5v
Serbia begin their quest for another EuroBasket triumph with a trip to Prague, Czech Republic for Group D action. Svetislav Pesic and his side take on Netherlands in their opener with Poland, Finland and Israel also providing tricky opposition over the first week of play.
With Jokic headlining a strong preliminary roster, it comes as no surprise that expectations are high with Serbia once again amongst the favorites for the title having made it to the Final five years ago before losing to Slovenia.
Jokic shrugs off any suggestion the pressure might be bigger than on other occasions: "People in Serbia are like that. We don’t like sports, we don’t like basketball – we like winning. We need to be as one, as a team. To respect each other."
It's an important summer for Serbia and their upcoming games in the World Cup Qualifiers cannot be taken lightly if they are to recover from their current position. There is no doubt that Jokic is ready.