The last time Serbia tasted world success was on American soil back as the old Yugoslavia in 2002. It was their second straight world championship victory but unfortunately, it then led to the basketball powerhouse’s demise in 2005 when they hosted Eurobasket in their own backyard.
Serbia and Montenegro were eliminated in the second round of Eurobasket by France, who were led by a young Tony Parker and Boris Diaw. The result sent shockwaves around the basketball world and caused a mass exodus of player and board member personnel.
When Montenegro declared independence a year later in 2006, Serbian basketball was in rebuilding mode. They lost all three games at Eurobasket 2007 in Spain, but showed great character in all three losing efforts. It was clear to see though that this once powerful basketball nation was starting again.
In 2009, they perhaps surprisingly finished runners-up at Eurobasket in Poland, losing to a strong Spain side in Katowice. But they proved that it wasn’t a fluke as they narrowly missed out on bronze in the 2010 world championships in Turkey.
Two top 10 finishes at the 2011 and 2013 Eurobaskets has led them to this point: A World Cup Final in 2014.
It took Serbia 11 years but they’re back.
Some will feel that their path to Sunday’s Final is a surprise. They used the extra time off in between the knockout phases to rest and prepare for their opponents and it’s worked. They are in the showpiece game.
“Our key to our offence is our defence,” said Serbia’s Miroslav Raduljica. “From our very good defence we can score many easy points and that gives us confidence.”
What is Serbia’s key to competing with the USA and possibly even causing one of basketball’s big upsets on Sunday?
“Serbian pride,” Raduljica declared.
To say that the United States are favourites on Sunday would be an understatement. Most betting websites are putting the U.S. at 1/100 to win. And in case you’re not a betting person. That’s pretty much saying that most the bookies and betting shops are not even bothering with this as everyone knows what the result will be.
USA coach Mike Krzyzewski has been adamant throughout this World Cup that his side are not a powerhouse and that his squad are young and inexperienced in international play.
But at 8-0, and an average victory margin of 32.5 points a game, the Americans have shown that skill, quickness and athleticism is winning over experience hands down. The USA has been exhilarating to watch but Krzyzewski is still worried of the threat that Serbia brings to the floor.
“I think Serbia’s as good as anybody in the tournament and probably the hottest team,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re playing at a high level and they have stars on their team. Teodosic, I’ve loved when I saw at the world championships in . Bogdanovic is a rising star. The big guys are good, they’re well coached and they are strong.”
One player that USA will look to slow down is Serbia’s sixth man Bogdan Bogdanovic, a player who was selected in the 2014 NBA Draft, but has chosen to hone his craft with Euroleague side Fenerbahce.
Krzyzewski is a great admirer of Bogdanovic and believes that he has the skillset to be in the NBA now.
“He has NBA potential now,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a very gifted player. He has great length for a guy who can shoot like that. Long arms. I think he will an outstanding player in the NBA.”
Bogdanovic, Teodosic and indeed the entire Serbian side will need their A+ game though if they are to stop the U.S. from doing what they themselves did in 1998 and 2002 as Yugoslavia.