WBC Preview: Serbia and Montenegro
Serbia and Montenegro's National Team has been the subject of much turmoil in recent years. After winning the World Championship in 2002, the squad collapsed during the Athens Games, going 1-5 and never making it out of the preliminary round. The inability of the team to qualify for the quarterfinals in the 2005 European Championship -- and thus the FIBA World Championship -- further fueled a developing storm.
Because they've been historically successful in international competition, FIBA stepped in and awarded the country a wild card spot to ensure Serbia and Montenegro made it to Japan. Nevertheless, the implications of the lack of success over the last two years were still felt. A number of talented players weren't invited to re-join the national team, while others simply opted to retire or rest this summer.
The team's talent will also be divided in the future. Montenegro became an independent state this year, and this is the last time the two countries are competing as one.
With mostly young players decorating the roster, it's considered a new era for Serbia and Montenegro's National Team, according to head coach Dragan Sakota.
Milicic, for his part, is relishing the role. In exhibition play, in which Serbia and Montenegro lost just once in its first eight games, Milicic has taken on a leadership role on the offensive end.
The 7-1 pivot experienced a re-birth of sorts in Orlando last seaon, averaging 7.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.07 blocks in 20 games following a trade from Detroit. Milicic's trip to Japan will be an integral part of his individual growth process, and a good showing there would do a world of good for his confidence level next season.
Rakocevic posted 1.9 points in 5.8 minutes per game as a Timberwolves rookie in 2002-03. The combo guard has excellent speed and can put the ball in the hole. He averaged 14.8 points and 3.0 assists for Real Madrid in the Euroleague this past season.
6-9 Ognjen Askrabic should see extensive playing time at the power forward position. Askrabic has been extensively scouted by NBA teams and was rumored to be in free agent talks over the years. He spent last season with Dynamo St. Petersburg in the Russian League.
Ilic will join New Jersey next October after being selected by the Nets in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft and spending the 2005-06 season overseas. He led the ULEB Cup in blocks last season at 1.5 per game, in addition to averaging 7.6 points and 4.8 rebounds for FMP Zeleznik. It's said his height is up to 7-2, as he's continued to grow since being drafted.
Also 7-2, Perovic posted 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in the Euroleague. Perovic is expected to remain overseas next season. He's one of three prominent young talents from the Serbian pro club team Partizan Belgrade competing on the national team.
Partizan forward Luka Bogdanovic is expected to see meaningful playing time on the wing. The 6-8 21-year-old is a first rate shooter, and is a legitimate NBA prospect who entered the 2005 Draft before withdrawing his name from consideration. He averaged 6.8 points and shot 39 percent from three-point range in the Euroleague in 2005-06.
Uros Tripkovic is another young player who could one day cross the Atlantic to play in the NBA. Partizan's point guard averaged 10.2 points and 1.9 assists in the Euroleague this past season at only 19 years of age. He's generally regarded as the best young talent in Serbia and Montenegro, and at 6-5 he brings size to the playmaker position.
And that's one thing Serbia and Montenegro has a lot of -- size. The team's average height is 6-8.
The Bottom Line
Don't be fooled by Serbia and Montenegro's 7-1 record in recent exhibition contests. They got blasted by 27 points once they met a top-tier opponent in Pau Gasol and Spain. This is still a very young Serbian squad, and they would have to pull off a few upsets to medal at the FIBA World Championship.