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Andrea Bargnani and Danilo Gallinari are being counted on by Italy coach Carlo Recalcati to lead the national team into the Beijing Olympics.

That's what Recalcati confirmed to FIBA's Cindy Garcia-Bennett on Friday night in Bologna, where the veteran tactician was watching former team Montepaschi Siena in the Coppa Italia.

At the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan, Recalcati was deprived of Bargnani, who was concentrating on preparations for his rookie season in the NBA with the Toronto Raptors.

Recalcati has revealed what kept Italy's most exciting talent for decades from linking up with the Azzurri in Sapporro and Saitama.

FIBA: First of all, how does it feel watching the Coppa Italia from the stands as opposed to shouting instructions from the Montepaschi bench?

Recalcati: "I do miss coaching a Lega A team a little bit. Everything went okay until December, and now I miss a little bit not being in the gym on a day-to-day basis."

FIBA: Now you have a lot of spare time?

Recalcati: "In theory I have more time but the truth is that I work all over the country. Next week I will go to Puglia for three days, then to Sardinia and then to Sicily for the Federation. We have clinics, meetings and I don't have much time. It's an altogether different job that's going well and I think will continue to do well. But personally, I feel a little bit out of place."

FIBA: Montepaschi did not win a trophy last season. Were you under pressure to leave?

Recalcati: "It was my decision because I felt at the time that I needed to get back in touch with the whole territory and work with the youth teams as I did prior to my experience at Siena. In the three years I spent at Siena, I had no time to do this. The youngsters grew up and I didn't have a real awareness and vision of what was available out there. Now I have it."

FIBA: You have to be impressed with Montepaschi because they lead the league and could, judging from their performance on Friday night against holders Eldo Napoli, be the team to beat in the Coppa.

Recalcati: "Siena are playing very well, they have been one of the most consistent teams up to now in the Lega A and I think they are one of the favourites to win the title."

FIBA: We are really intrigued as to what the make-up of your team will be at EuroBasket 2007 in Spain. You left many of the veterans at home last summer, like captain Giacomo Galanda and Massimo Bulleri, and appear to have given yourself many more options on squad selection with Italy impressing and reaching the eight-finals in Saitama.

Recalcati: "The Italian team for the EuroBasket will change with respect to Japan. There will be more younger players but also more experienced players. I am considering Giacomo Galanda and Massimo Bulleri and obviously, Andrea Bargnani and Danilo Gallinari will be included. It's going to be a mix between youth and experience."

FIBA: Everyone knows about Bargnani, but what can you tell us about the Armani Jeans Milano guard Gallinari?

Recalcati: "Gallinari is showing a lot of maturity. He is 18 years old, but on the court he is a veteran."

FIBA: And what of Bargnani? Are you pleased with what you are seeing out of him in the NBA?

Recalcati: "At the beginning of the season, I went to see Bargnani in Toronto. Back then he was playing less. But I saw him very motivated and very calm. He knew he had to be patient and that has paid off. He is playing much more and he is doing very well. This is very important also for the national team."

FIBA: Last year, it seemed expectations were not that high in Japan. Presumably, you go to Spain hoping to win the gold medal?

Recalcati: "Our aim is always to go to the Olympics. We know that we have the possibility of getting there by finishing in the top two at the EuroBasket but we are also aware that a fourth to sixth placed finish would also be a comfortable result to play at the pre-Olympics (additional qualifying tournament)."

FIBA: We're intrigued about what you had to say about having more of a chance to get around the country and examine what the young players are doing. Can you tell us more about that?

Recalcati: "There is a generation that is not ready yet to make that leap to the senior team but there are generations that have lots of players. In the past, our main problem was not to have alternative players with the same generation. The future is positive for the Italian national team because we have interesting players in the under-18 and under-16 teams."

FIBA: One player who followed up a terrific 2005-06 season at Napoli with a strong showing in Japan was Mason Rocca. He's been doing well again this year, too. Is he expected to make the trip to Spain?

Recalcati: "Mason is a player that has the right characteristic for our group. He has heart and determination. He lacked international experience and he gained that at the World Championship. I think last year's experience has played in his favour. We have seen it in the Euroleague. I hope to have him this summer with much more experience under his belt that he had last summer."

FIBA: Even though he is in the press quite a bit, all of us truly want to know everything we can about Bargnani and how he fits in.

Recalcati: "We will be in a situation in which the squad will need to get used to Bargnani but also Gallinari. It is a new situation for the squad because for the past four years, we have worked to get a group identity, to have had to learn to suffer in order to overcome some lack of talent and worth ethic. Like last year, this is a time of transition for the national team. In Japan, we introduced (Climamio Bologna's Marco) Bellinelli and this year it's Bargnani and Gallinari. It's bringing in talent to a team that didn't have it. It will be very important that this message is picked up by the veteran players. These young players will not take anything away from them but will give them the possibility to play in a slightly different way and it will ease the pressure of responsibility on them."

FIBA: So there is the short-term implication of blending the players in, and also the long-term result that you are considering?

Recalcati: "It's clear that in the long term it will bear fruit and we hope that this will be the case this summer but we are talking about a national team that will be evolving over the next 10 years. It's a job that has to be done."

FIBA: The FIBA World Championship is our major competition and it was truly a spectacle, but also representative of the best basketball in the world with teams from all over, including Olympic champions Argentina, Team USA, Spain and Greece. What are your thoughts when you look back on Japan?

Recalcati: "The World Championship was very positive for us because it allowed for certain players to get experience with us. We have created the possibility to have alternatives. I want to have Bargnani but we have to be ready just like last summer to be able to deal with a situation that will not allow you to have a given player. I'm not talking about Bargnani but other players. We have created the basis to be competitive."

FIBA: What can you tell us about the Bargnani situation last summer, something which appears to have been handled very wisely by the federation. Was Toronto's assistant general manager, former Benetton GM Maurizio Gherardini, a help or a hindrance? Also, does Bargnani even want to play for Italy?

Recalcati: "When I went to see Bargnani at the start of the season, I spoke to him about the national team programmes and I included him as part of the national team. Gherardini didn't play in our favour last summer because Maurizio was new at Toronto and clearly he was under pressure and he needed to look at the interests of the club. Maurizio told me that they will have six players from their team who will go to the EuroBasket. We cannot forget about (Spain's) Garbajosa, Calderon, (Slovenia's) Slokar and hence, they have that thought that these players will play at the European Championship."
Zupan Hopes To Make Mark With Slovenia


Miha Zupan came oh so close to representing Slovenia at the FIBA World Championship but missed out and had to watch from home.

The 24-year-old Olimpija Ljubljana power forward may finally get his chance to put on the national team colors at this year's EuroBasket when Slovenia take on France, Italy and Poland in Group D in Alicante.

Zupan is a fine basketball player, but he's not just well known for his powerful game on the court.

Zupan has made a name for himself in Slovenia despite being born born deaf.

He's also raised a lot of eyebrows after overcoming being born deaf.

The 2.05m Zupan recently spoke to Luka Maselj on behalf of FIBA Europe.

FIBA Europe: Miha, the EuroBasket is coming up this season and you haven't really made your mark with Slovenia's national team yet.

Zupan: "I want to change that. Last year, before the World Championship, I was really close. I was among the 15 players that were selected at first, but then only 12 travelled to Japan. Too bad, but I'm not very sad about it. I am confident I will have many more chances to show my quality. I am always ready to play for the national team - if the coach (Ales Pipan) wants me, that is. I hope I can be a part of the team for this year's EuroBasket. We will see. I will surely give it my best (shot)."

FIBA Europe: Some of Slovenia's more famous players have said they are unable to play this summer, like New Jersey Nets forward Bostjan Nachbar and Charlotte Bobcats center Primoz Brezec. What do you think about their decisions?

Zupan: "I do not want to talk about the others. They have their reasons, I am sure. With me, things are different. For me participation at the EuroBasket or the World Championship would be even more important than to them. It would not only be my success, but also for all the deaf and partially deaf people in Slovenia and abroad."

FIBA Europe: In your opinion, how far can Slovenia go in Spain?

Zupan: "We play in a group together with Italy, France and Poland and surely we will not have an easy task. A lot will depends on the selection the coach will make. If most of the best Slovenian players will be available, I think we should not have a big problem making it to the next round (in Madrid). From there, anything can happen. There are a lot of things that can contribute to success or to failure. We showed the world a couple of times that we can play basketball. I hope we can prove that in Spain and make a good impact."

FIBA Europe: Who do you think are the hot favorites to win the competition?

Zupan: "The Spanish, I would say. They have a great team and they play at home. Also, the Greeks are very good and they will have a great motive with defending the victory of two years ago. But nevertheless, I would give an advantage to the Spanish, especially because of the homecourt advantage. We should all also not forget some other teams, for instance Italy. But as you have said: the championship is not here yet and many things can happen before it starts."

FIBA Europe: Miha, you began playing basketball at 14 years of age at DGN Ljubljana - a sports club in Slovenia for the hearing impaired. Then in 2000, you joined Slovenia giants Geoplin Slovan. What was that like?

Zupan: "When people saw the potential in me, I started to believe in myself. The only thing I was really scared about then was how my new teammates would welcome me among them."

FIBA Europe: Did you have any problems?

Zupan: "No, I was really lucky. Very soon I was a part of a great team. The players were good athletes and also very good people. Everybody helped me a lot - like Jaka Lakovic (Winterthur Barcelona) and Uros Slokar (Toronto Raptors). Being accepted as one of them meant a lot to me. It also helped me to communicate with the team and the coach. At first, I played without my hearing device, because there was a great risk of losing it during practice and games. But after two years, I finally found a solution. My second coach at Slovan, the first one was Tomo Mahoric, was Ivan Sunara and he advised me to wear a sweatband. With it, I could finally play with the hearing devices in my ears and that was a big step forward in my career. I started playing much better - some say from 50 to 70% better. It was much easier to communicate with others and I could follow the play much easier. For me, hearing my teammates, the coach and the referee during the game, was something new, something great."

FIBA Europe: What was the hardest part of not hearing anything on the court?

Zupan: "I did not know what action we were playing, I could not hear what the coach was talking about during the timeout. If I did not see the referee, I could not tell if he had blown his whistle or not ... Everything was much harder when I could not hear anything. I had a lot of problems following the events that occured on the court. When I could hear with my hearing devices, everything was much easier."

FIBA Europe: One of the players that helped you a lot was Slokar, who plays in the NBA. We understand you want to play there as well.

Zupan: "That is true. Playing in the NBA was my first and also my biggest wish. I am still quite young and I hope that some day, I will make it. But there is a lot of hard work in front of me if I want to go play there. I will have to go step by step. Before I can even think about a move to the NBA, I must become a regular national team player and also feature in the Euroleague."

FIBA: You are already a member of the Slovenian deaf and partially deaf national team.

Zupan: "That is true. In a lot of aspects this kind of basketball is similar to the 'regular' one. But there are also some differences. We play games without our hearing devices and we communicate only with hand gestures. We also communicate in that way with our coach. The biggest problem is following the referee's decisions as we can not hear him. It is often that we do not see that he has stopped the game. For me, it is not very easy playing without my hearing device again, but I am happy to join the team and get adjusted to it once again. But it is a shock, a big difference."

FIBA: With this National Team, you have already won the European Championship and finished second at the Special Olympics.

Zupan: "I am very proud of what we have done. The general public does not follow our results very carefully, but the deaf and partially deaf people do. Not only in Slovenia. Being first in Europe is something big."
Finals MVP Parker Pays Tribute To France


Draped with the French flag around his body, NBA Finals MVP Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs was quick to thank his country for support following his team?s 83-82 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four which completed a sweep.

?I wear it every time we win it,? said Parker of showcasing the French colours.

?I want to show some love to my country. I don?t forget about them. I know there a lot of people in my country who wake up at 3:00 in the morning to watch me play.?

? I will be ready to play for my country this summer. ?

Parker gave those fans plenty to remember based on his remarkable all-around play.

He averaged 24.5 ppg to become the first European to ever win the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.

The 25-year-old scored 24 points in Game Four clincher.

With this performance, questions were raised during the post-game press conference that Parker is on the same level in terms of French popularity with football legend Zinedine Zidane.

?Zidane is always going to be the man in France,? Parker said.

?But hopefully French people can realize what I just accomplished with three NBA titles in five years. That?s not bad.?

The memorable moments for Parker in 2007 will continue this summer.

Parker is set to marry Eva Longoria in July.

"I'm definitely going to remember 2007. It's a great year. I don't know what I did, but it's been a great year. I'm very blessed," Parker said.

Parker and Tim Duncan have now won three NBA titles in five years.

Parker can culminate his 2007 campaign with a strong showing at EuroBasket 2007 in Spain.

?I will be ready to play for my country this summer.?

Parker, who was born in Belgium but raised in France, joined the Spurs in the 2001 NBA draft and was part of the team that also won the Finals in 2003 and 2005.

His success with San Antonio is the envy of many, and Parker attributes it all to one man - coach Gregg Popovich.

"The team's confidence starts with Pop," Parker continued.

"The fact that he never lets us get comfortable. He's always behind us, like, 'Come on, come on, focus, focus.' I think it carries on. Every day in practice we just get that mentality.

"He's also been unbelievable with me. He means everything to me. He's always pushed me, even if I was lazy in practice.

"After the NBA Finals, and being named MVP, I can give a lot of credit to Coach Pop because I would never be here without him."

Parker's accolade follows that of Germany superstar Dirk Nowitzki, who recently became the first European to land the league MVP award.

And the Frenchman admits their achievements can only be a good thing for basketball on the continent.

"To be the first European to the win award is great. I'm speechless. When I wake up tomorrow it's still going to be a dream," said the point guard.

"Dirk Nowitzki has just won MVP and now I've won the MVP Finals and it's just great. I'm happy to be the first one, I'm on the list now.

"European basketball is improving by the year. And it's just going to keep going."
Italy coach Carlo Recalcati is pleased with the progress of his experimental squad at the Adriatic Tournament with the youngsters having won games against Croatia and Slovakia.

The Azzurri beat a Croatia B team 80-73 with Valerio Amoroso pouring in 15 points, and Daniel Hackett of the University of Southern California Trojans and Premiata Montegranaro's Giuliano Maresca each scoring ten.

On Monday, the Italians won their clash against Slovakia, 74-68, with Daniele Cavaliero pouring in 17 points and Hackett weighing in with 14.

In the game against Croatia, Italy jumped out to a 26-19 lead by the end of the first quarter but were unable to pull away.

Caretaker coach Ivan Sunara (Croatia boss Jasmin Repesa is currently coaching Lottomatica Roma in the Lega A semifinals in Italy) watched his side bury three straight three-pointers to take a 66-65 lead with eight minutes remaining.

But Recalcati's men maintained their poise.

Climamio Bologna's Cavaliero calmly directed the attack, and Amoroso connected from three-point range, with a basket inside the arc as the hosts went back in front for good.

During that decisive phase, Italy got great defense from Hackett and Maresca.

"It was an intense game as we would expect between two young sides," Recalcati said.

"I'm really satisfied with the performance because my team put into practice what we worked on in training.

"It was a good step forward towards the aim which is to arrive in mid-June at a good level."

Slovakia, who are attempting to win promotion back to EuroBasket Division A, put up a good fight against the Italians on Monday.

They stormed out to a 22-14 lead after the first period before the home side battled back to level the game at 36-36 by halftime.

Italy got their noses in front in the second half and eventually won by six.

"When you face a team that you don't know much about, it's very difficult to know what their weaknesses are so we have tried to give our best in order to find out," Recalcati said.

"At the beginning, we had some problems.

"We thought that we were going to win the game but our rivals were good believing they could surprise us.

"We have taken a step backwards in terms of our game against Croatia in Bari on Saturday, but that was to be expected. The important thing is that we won."
Slavnic Has High Hopes For Serbia

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A new chapter in Serbian basketball began on Monday as newly appointed national team coach Zoran Slavnic gathered his first squad to prepare for this year's EuroBasket in Spain.

Eleven players were present but it was Minnesota Timberwolves' guard Marko Jaric who was the the center of attention.

Jaric, who missed the FIBA World Championship last year and looked to have fallen out of favour after Serbia's failure at EuroBasket 2005, was unable to hide his joy at being back in the fold.

He said: "It is great to be back. I wasn't called last year for Japan, and I wasn't even sure if there was a call, but I'm really glad I'm here once again.

"It will be a great task for all of us, as many teams will come to Spain with high ambitions. We will have the same attitude. It won't be easy, one game can send you to the top or send you home, but we'll do our best to fulfil the expectations of our nation."

Slavnic, who will hold training sessions until Friday before gathering all 32 of his players on July 15, was also in an optimistic mood.

He said: "I'm sure I'll bring back the good old spirit of patriotism into this new team. We've lacked that in some of the previous competitions, and I think it is essential for future success. Not all of our young players are without patriotism though.

"Cleveland's Sasa Pavlovic said several days ago that he is impatient to finally play for Serbia. Vuk Ivanovic, who studies at the University of Utah, answered my call while he was in the lab - he couldn't believe that I was calling him to play for national team.

"We need that kind of patriot, those who love their country, who are ready to play for it, and who are great players.

"I'm an optimist - I was born one - and therefore I'll do my best to create a team from which five or six members will be our key players for the next five or six years. I will be very disappointed if this side fail to qualify for the 2008 Olympics."

Serbia will contest Group A of the EuroBasket, which begins on September 3, alongside defending champions Greece, Russia and the team that wins the additional qualifying tournament.
ESP - Calderon confidence soars after superb second year

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Now a contract extension could be on the way.

Calderon, who has one year left on his current deal, told the Spanish Basketball Federation's official website on Tuesday: Unofficially, I know they (Toronto) are very happy with me.

"During the season, there have been several teams interested in my transfer but Toronto didn?t want to let me go."

The 25-year-old did have a terrific year.

He was anonymous as a rookie but he blossomed into a valuable back-up this season and even started 11 times as Toronto won 47 games en route to the Eastern Conference play-offs.

Calderon averaged 13 points and 5.3 assists in 21 minutes per game during the play-offs, up from his regular season averages of 8.7 and 5.0

"I do feel as I am in the best moment of my career," Calderon said. "Each year I try to improve. Last year, I heard rumours that they were going to trade me but now they respect me. I am not only happy for my season, but also because now, they know me."

Calderon started for one of Spain's most successful clubs, Tau Ceramica, before leaving for the NBA.

He knew that launching a career in the NBA would not be easy.

"The first year (in the NBA) is always complicated," he said. "Last season, we were a losing side and it?s difficult to feel comfortable and then I had an injury that hindered the second part of my campaign."

Calderon following that up by joining the Spanish national team and helping them cut down the opposition all summer.

They went undefeated against other international teams in the build-up to the FIBA World Championship, and then won all their games on the way to the gold medal in Japan.

When he returned to Toronto, Calderon had additional confidence from his summer with Spain's national team.

"This year (in the NBA) has been completely different," he said. "I had the willingness to prove that I could play there."

Calderon still finds it odd how regular-season games in the NBA are not as intense as those in Europe.

"One thing that really shocked me was that in the NBA, even if you lose a game, in the changing room you joke around, while in Europe if you lose a game it affects you for a week," he said. "Play-offs are a different story."

While fellow Spanish international and Jorge Garbajosa joined the side this season from Unicaja Malaga, Calderon said he was also close friends with the American players.

"One player that I really have connected with has been Darrick Martin," Calderon said.

"He joined Toronto (from Minnesota) last season like me and from the first day, he told me `I am here to help you, not to take minutes off you'. He is an incredible guy and has helped me a lot."
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Crosariol Hoping For Italy Nod

Virtus Bologna center Andrea Crosariol is hoping his performances this season will see him called up to Italy's EuroBasket 2007 squad.

The 2.10m ace, part of the side that went down 3-0 against Montepaschi Siena in the Lega A play-offs, dazzled in the final clash, sinking 21 points only for Bologna to slip to a 90-82 defeat.

Now Crosariol is looking to a brighter future. He said: "Regarding my performance, I am just happy that (national team coach) Carlo Recalcati has watched the game, now he knows what I am capable of."
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Interview with Lithuanian NT head coach Ramūnas Butautas.

Wasn't your optimism hurt when ?ydrūnas Ilgauskas who played in the NBA finals declared that he will not join NT because of a family problems?

How do you know that he will not play? ?ydrūnas didn't say "no" to me that's why I can't neither confirm nor deny his words to the press. I intend to contact him in a few days and only then his summer plans will be clear. Then his official opinion will be known. I only trust those words that I hear the person himself. Ilgauskas is an important figure in our team. His experience in the highest level games is indispensible. I like his playing style of communicativity. ?ydrūnas would strengthen the team a lot but I will respect whatever decision he makes.

If Ilgauskas decides not play how will you solve the problem of such center? Robertas Javtokas spent almost all season on the bench at Panathinaikos. Do you think Lavrinovič twins will be enough or have you noted some other center?

When we start training and playing friendly games it will be clear what to do. Maybe those players that we have will be enough, maybe we will have to invite another tall player or maybe a lower player will good enough. I never underrate 12th player who is a very important figure. We will see what we miss but is too early to talk about this now.

Have you already accepted that Khimki head coach Kęstutis Kemzūra will not be with the team because his contract doesn't let to?

The loss is huge. Kęstutis is a very high level specialist. The important is that he has the experience that I don't. It will be my debut as head coach of NT and I'll have to get used to its "kitchen". I am not afraid to admit that and I take it as my disadvanatage. Kemzūra did the job well as an assitant last year and showed his best. Despite that I understand his choice. I expect big help from the person who will replace him - Robertas Kuncaitis, an experienced Rimas Kurtinaitis and physio Virginijus Mikalauskas.

What about players? What is their mood when you talk to them?

It is very good fighting spirit. They are a real patriots of Lithuania and they won't have to be told that Lithuania need victories. Their motivation will lead them to each game - not the money. All players, except ?arūnas Jasikevičius and Simas Jasaitis who don't have contracts, are certain about their future. They all want to get to the Beijing Olympics through the shortest way and confirm that a small Lithuania is a big basketball country.

We will have a very strong team, a team of real basketball stars. I am happy that Arvydas Macijauskas recovered after a serious injury, that the Euroleague champion Ramūnas ?i?kauskas and Italian champion Rimantas Kaukėnas are both leaders of famous clubs, that despite playing little in the NBA ?arūnas Jasikevičius is determined. The experience and careers of other players are also impressive.

What will help you to be a good leader of a team? Maybe a triumph in Youth World Championships when lead Lithuania youth team to a gold medal or maybe a triumph in Latvian championship with ASK Riga?

At the moment I am not thinking about that. But it is not a secret that every win increases players and coaches confidence and gives optimism. I am basketball workaholic and work the way my education and intuition let me to.

What news are coming from the rivals (Lithuania will face Czech Republic, Turkey and Germany in Group C)?

My agent constantly informs me about that. All the teams intend to have the strongest teams possible. A teams from other groups have big ambitions, especially Serbs and Croatians. You can slip at every step and it will be very hard to stand up.

Will you come back to ASK Riga after Eurobasket?

I have a contract offer for another year in my computer. But I haven't signed it yet because I am negotiating some points of it. If I get a positive answer, I will stay. This team is supported by the municipality of Riga and various parties. I like that the club is financially strong and has big ambitions, they even dream to play in the Euroleague. I am also ambitious and our targets are the same. On the other hand it is good that Riga is not far from Kaunas. I sit in a car and after a few hours I am at home that's why I wouldn't want to move to Greece of elsewhere.
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Quote:Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa's biggest battle so far this summer is not on the court but off it.

Maccabi Tel Aviv center Nikola Vujcic, the team's most important player, recently announced he would not play at the EuroBasket because he intends to leave Europe after next season for the NBA.

Repesa isn't listening.

"This team needs Vujcic today, not tomorrow or the day after," Repesa said at a press conference.

"Giving the reason that he cannot participate due to the preparations for the 2008-2009 NBA season is not justifiable to me.

"I will accept everything that's justifiable and objective. We're here to discuss everything and to compromise and find solutions."

Vujcic, and everyone in the Croatia set-up, still feel the sting of EuroBasket 2005 in Belgrade.

Croatia looked like gold medal contenders before getting derailed by Spain in a controversial quarter-final.

Vujcic captained that team and was in tears after the overtime defeat, which saw a huge disparity in fouls called in favour of Spain.

He indicated then that his National Team days were over.

Vujcic claims he can only play so much basketball before he needs to rest, and with an attempt at the NBA coming up in 2008, he simply cannot play for Croatia this year.

"I'm not giving up on the National Team," he insisted.

"I have years of basketball in front of me, but I admit that some of my priorities have changed after Belgrade and I'm not willing to risk the NBA for the European Championship.

"The National Team is one of my goals, but the NBA can't wait. That is my only reason."