ImageTB friends from NetScouts had a guest blog author, Alejandro Gonzales of the Spanish basketball website BasketMe and he wrote an excellent story about a rising star of the European basketball. Ladies and gintlement we give you MONTENEGRO! Discover it!

The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had something really special when it came to playing team sports. Handball, volleyball, football, waterpolo and, of course, basketball. Its legacy continues with the bunch of countries (Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and FYROM) that became independent from the breakup in 1991. The last one, the rising star, is the three-year old Republic of Montenegro.

Montenegro, Venetian name for “Black Mountain” and Crna Gora in Serbian, is a 700.000 population country located on the coast of Adriatic Sea. On May 21st, 2006, its citizens claimed independence from Serbia with 55.5% of votes in a referendum. On June 3, Montenegro was officially an independent republic. Coming from a difficult economical background, the country is trying to grow up through the tourism business and services industry. Meanwhile politics and economics are growing up slowly, sports are progressing very fast.

In 2006 World Championship, Montenegro had to play still joined to Serbia (as Serbia-Montenegro) as they qualified to the tournament as a unified country. The loss against Spain in the final 16 was the last game of an era and the official beginning of a meteoric rise of a new European basketball team. FIBA Europe placed Montenegro in Division B, due to the very low level of Division C (including teams like Andorra, Malta, Gibraltar or San Marino) which would have been simply a waste of time for a team with such a good basis. Waiting for its moment, the summer of 2008 when the Division B tournament started, as the way to promote to Division A, the basketball federation, led by Veselin Barovic (from the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, now in the government) started to work in order to build a solid team. First, they needed a good head coach, somebody able to face the challenge and experienced in development issues. No one better than Dusko Vujosevic, born in Montenegro, the Partizan Belgrade head coach (Euroleague coach of the year last season), hired in 2007.

Then, the roster. Vujosevic started to work with a bunch of players divided in two levels. First level was composed by experienced and veteran players like Vlado Scepanovic (World and European champion with former Yugoslavia), Predrag Drobnjak, Goran Jeretin, Nebojsa Bogavac and Goran Nikolic. Second level came from the impressive generation of youngsters led by Nikola Pekovic (Euroleague star playing for Panathinaikos), Vladimir Dasic (Real Madrid), Slavko Vranes (Partizan) and Vladimir Golubovic (Union Olimpija Ljubljana).

Before the senior team would start to compete, the U-20 and U-18 teams started to play and getting the first successes for the country. In 2007, the U-20 team won Division B Eurobasket, getting promoted to division A, where they ended in fifth position in 2008. In both tournaments, the team was paced by top European prospect Vladimir Dasic, especially brilliant in 2008 averaging 22.8 points per game. Weeks later, the country reached its first big success as the waterpolo national team won the European Championship in Malaga. That year, the handball team played its first European Championship and the football team made its first points in official games in the road to South Africa 2010 World Cup.

September 6th 2008 would be the first big day of the history of Montenegrin basketball, with the tip-off of Division B tournament in La Almere, Netherlands. Montenegro beat Netherlands 70-63 behind Nikola Pekovic’s 11 points and 9 rebounds. It was the beginning of an impressive tournament. That victory against Netherlands was the only game won by less than ten points. Ten games, ten wins. Montenegro beat Sweden in the two game final series for the promotion. A year after its first official game, Montenegro reached the Division A of European Basketball unbeaten.

Montenegro has a very solid and competitive team. Analyzing the roster, we always should start in the paint. Nikola Pekovic is the star and leader of the team. One of the best centers in Europe and Euroleague champion last season with Panathinaikos, Pekovic is the main weapon and a vocal leader. Around him, the team collected a bunch of towers going from the veteran Predrag Drobnjak (211cm) to the youngsters Slavko Vranes (229cm), Vladimir Golubovic (211cm) and Ivan Maras (206cm).

Jumping between the position of small forward and power forward we find 21 year-old Vladimir Dasic, a European top prospect, extremely talented and a very versatile player. Dasic and Pekovic are the core and future of Montenegro basketball. Dasic signed with Ettore Messina’s Real Madrid this summer after impressing everybody in U-20 tournaments and Buducnost Podgorica (Montenegro’s league champion).

The backcourt is led by Vladimir Scepanovic, a solid scorer full of experience as World and European Champion playing for the former Yugoslavia. Goran Jeretin completes a dangerous outside shooting arsenal. From the small forward position Zarko Rakocevic and Milos Borisov are the glue of this team, playing a very important role for Vujosevic. The fifth option in the perimeter is the 23 year-old shooting guard Boris Bakic, from Red Star Belgrade.

The point guard of the team is Omar Cook, the St. John’s star out of Brooklyn who received the Montenegrin citizenship in 2008. Cook’s point guard skills have developed during his career in Europe becoming a notable game director. His backup is Ivan Koljevic, a top prospect a few years ago who couldn’t explode as expected, but still a very good point guard.

Dasic, Pekovic, Vranes and Golubovic are already the present of Montenegrin basketball. Meanwhile, the next generation is getting ready for the best. Sead Sehovic, Nemanja Vranes and Nikola Vucevic (USC Trojans) are the very next future and could be followed by the U-18 group led by Nemanja Radovic and Bojan Dubljevic.

Montenegro has everything a team could need to win. It has the inside game, outside shooting, strength, size, game direction, skills and a perfect mix between experience and youth.  They are hungry, full of passion, looking forward to play and defend the honour of a new nation.

The country of the Humanity and Gallantry, as the national ethical ideal says, is looking forward to a bright future, growing up step by step at all the levels. On the floor, they are just jumping into a very good direction. Late in the summer of 2010, the road to 2011 Eurobasket in Lithuania will begin. A three-year old team will try to become an adult. Montenegro is totally ready for it.