PODGORICA (EuroBasket/FIBA Basketball World Cup) – There were plenty of celebrations for Montenegrin basketball fans six years ago, when the national team began to chart its own course.
Their federation was officially recognized during the 2006 FIBA World Championship.
Over the years, the players had competed for Yugoslavia and then with Serbia and Montenegro.
But after becoming an independent Montenegro, the nation set out to prove that it would have one of the finest national teams not only in Europe but the entire world.
After winning promotion from the old EuroBasket Division B without losing a game, Montenegro qualified at the first attempt for the EuroBasket in 2011, which was held in Lithuania.
For the first time as a national team, they struggled.
Montenegro did not advance from the initial group stage.
A situation can change dramatically from one year to the next for a national side and it did for Montenegro because one year later, at this summer’s EuroBasket Qualification Round, they not only won all of their games in a difficult Group A that also included Serbia, Israel, Estonia, Iceland and the Slovak Republic, but did so without NBA players Nikola Pekovic and Nikola Vucevic.
The team received outstanding efforts from a host of young players.
They had incredible moments, too, like beating Serbia in the Belgrade Arena on 18 August when Nikola Ivanovic made a buzzer-beater at the end, a shot he took from beyond half court.
Coach Luka Pavicevic expects everyone to show up at next summer’s EuroBasket in Slovenia, where Montenegro will attempt to qualify for the inaugural FIBA Basketball World Cup, with the right frame of mind.
“(To play for Montenegro) should carry with it a certain charm and intensity of desire,” Pavicevic said.
“That, with a good organization and a program of work, should help us to form a high-quality game that should give us a chance to meet realistic goals.”
Pavicevic will expect that mentality not only from his players, but of himself and the other coaches.
If Minnesota’s Pekovic and Orlando’s Vucevic – players who have gotten off to solid starts in the NBA this season- show up as expected and play for Montenegro in Slovenia, the natural assumption is that the squad will be even better than the one that went undefeated in the Qualification Round.
“We do expect that they would, under normal conditions and if they do not have health problems, be in the team for the European Championship,” the coach said.
“Then you have to set goals.”
Another issue that could help Montenegro become even stronger would be the inclusion of Real Madrid’s Nikola Mirotic in the squad.
Mirotic has played his basketball in Spain and represented the country at youth level.
He was named U20 European Championship MVP in 2011 after leading Spain to the gold medal in Bilbao.
Pavicevic says that everyone in the Basketball Federation of Montenegro, from the management, coaching staff to players, would very much like to have Mirotic in the side.
“We’d all like to have a player of that caliber in the team,” he said.
“The rules favor us, although Mirotic played for the junior team of Spain…it solely depends on his desire to play for his home team.”
As for the opposition next year, Montenegro will discover their opponents at the draw on 18 November in Postojna.
Even if the draw looks hard, Pavicevic says that past experience shows his team can meet challenges.
In an interview on the country’s basketball federation website, he said: “If there was a group that was to be avoided in qualifying, then it was ours.
“It was by far the most difficult and the quality and number of teams, but with courageous performances we managed to achieve our goal.”