Crvendakic emerges as new leader for Serbia's title defense quest
BELGRADE (Serbia) - If the reigning FIBA Women's EuroBasket champions want to defend their cherished title or at least get back onto the podium, then Aleksandra Crvendakic will be central to the mission.
Having been a key member of the winning team two years ago in Valencia, now she finds herself having been elevated to arguably the leading figure for her team at this years event.
"It is incredible that we never lost a game at the last Women's EuroBasket." - Aleksandra Crvendakic
Unlike 2021 when the legendary Sonja Vasic took MVP honors with an incredible display, Serbia won't be able to call upon that level of expertise and experience - compounded by the fact that another colossus in Jelena Brooks followed her teammate into retirement post Tokyo 2020.
Consequently the spotlight has been thrown onto Crvendakic, who alongside the likes of Yvonne Anderson and Tina Krajisnik, will be tasked with winning the big games for her team. Additionally, Crvendakic is becoming a veteran ahead of time and is ready to help some of the younger players being blooded into the setup by head coach, Marina Maljkovic.
The forward missed out on the action at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 and her return is certainly Serbia's gain, having shrugged off absences and predictions of a potential demise by still making the Quarter-Finals, despite several players making major tournament debuts.
Crvendakic missed the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 with injury and is excited to be back
"It has been really hard for me, because sometimes when injuries stop you, it is even harder," reflected Crvendakic.
"But I was really still supporting my team and I was really proud as they did a great job and especially because a new generation was there after we had some players retiring.
"People didn't really expect a lot from us, but we are still 'Team Serbia' and we really expect a lot from each other and now I am so ready to help them again for this Women's EuroBasket."
She continued: "In Valencia it was just special, even though the summer was really hard in some ways, because we had two major tournaments with the Olympics straight afterwards.
"But we all knew that Sonja [Vasic] and Jelena [Brooks] would retire and so it was something special to win the title with them and with that team.
The legendary Sonja Vasic was MVP two years ago en-route to gold and Serbia are learning to live without her
"It was honestly unbelievable because from the first moment, we knew that it would be a difficult path having to play Spain in the Quarter-Finals, then Belgium in the Semi-Finals and of course France in the Final.
"But we all believed in each other and it was a dream come true. It is incredible that we never lost a game at the last Women's EuroBasket."
Without Vasic and Brooks this time around, the scope for Crvendakic to fill some of the immense void that has been left is huge. Although critically and rather smartly, she knows that it is not about trying to replace the irreplaceable.
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She explained: "I believe that by playing with them, I learned a lot and while I can not be big headed, it is also important to know that my generation is needed now.
"I have more experience and I am happy to take some responsibility, but it does not mean that I can be like them. I really just want to share the feeling that I experienced alongside them, with our new younger players in the future and to show what is possible when we all play together."
One other thing Crvendakic has learned is that success breeds success and such incredible memories in the past serve as fuel for wanting more similar ones to come along. Or at least if you are wise enough to understand that reputation and past results mean nothing once you return to the Final Round floor.
"I think the Women's EuroBasket is huge because the prize is so big," she claimed.
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"You also have a chance to take a step towards the qualification games for the Olympics. That is huge and something I want to do again as I have been there twice before.
"Every time you come to these FIBA tournaments you want more. But, I also believe that we have to show up in Slovenia and be careful to only go game by game.
"Plus, we also really need to grow and evolve again as a team," concluded Crvendakic.
Serbia will play in Group D with Turkey, Slovakia and Hungary as the competition gets underway on June 15.