|04 September 2011|
|Nikola Vucevic can count on coach Dejan Radonjic and fellow big man Nikola Pekovic to help in his development|
By Paul Nilsen
For rising star Nikola Vucevic, an historic Eurobasket debut for Montenegro has given him the perfect platform to showcase his talent.
Recognised as one of the most promising players of his age group, he is currently continuing his development by testing his skills at the very highest level.
So far at least, he is relatively satisfied with his efforts which include helping his nation to secure a famous first Final Round success.
"I think that I did well in the first games we played," says Vucevic.
"I just always try to play hard on defense, rebound well and take good shots on offense," he said.
"I try to do what the coaches ask me to do so that I can help the team win.
"I guess my role is different here than the one I had in college where I was the main guy.
"Here we have a lot of good players so everyone has to sacrifice a little bit in the best interests of our team," he added.
"The first win was very important for the players, the coaching staff and our fans.
"For the players, it was very important because it took some pressure off us to get that first win and also it helped our confidence.
"It is very important to win the first game when you are in a tournament like EuroBasket where every game matters."
Having been selected with the 16th overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in last June's NBA draft, Vucevic is acutely aware of the spotlight he is now under but is trying to handle the situation and use it to his advantage.
"I would not say that I feel pressure because of it. I understand that people expect a lot from me and I am ready to live up to those expectations," he reasoned.
"In fact, those expectations give me motivation to work even more.
"It's a good thing when people talk about you and expect things from you since it must mean that you are good."
One huge factor in his favour is being able to learn from the best both on and off the court.
Not only does he have coaches such as Dejan Radonjic and Dusko Vujosevic at his disposal, but he is also quick to pay tribute to Nikola Pekovic and the role his fellow big man has had in helping him evolve as a player.
"It's great for me to have a guy like him on my team," he said of Pekovic.
"He is one of the best centers in Europe and to have a chance to go up against him every day in practice helps me get better. I can learn a lot from him.
"We also get along very well and he helps me a lot. He always tries to say and show stuff to me that can help me.
"I have worked with Coach Radonjic before at the U20 European Championships and I have a good relationship with him," Vucevic added.
"He is a very good coach and I can learn a lot from him while I actually met Dusko Vujosevic last year for the first time and he helps me a lot as well."
While Vucevic has the world at his feet and a potentially great career ahead of him, his life has been touched by tragedy and consequently you can forgive him for appreciating the opportunity he has more than most young players after surviving a serious train crash a few years ago.
"It was during 2006," he recalled.
"Myself and the team went to prepare in the mountains for the second part of our season in Montenegro and on the way back, the train crashed.
"The brakes stopped working and since it was going downhill the train actually started going by itself.
"It was going at a speed that was way too fast for that part of the track and in a curve inside the tunnel, it crashed.
"A lot of people died, including a guy from the younger team that went with us.
"I did not have any major injuries, just a couple small ones but it was a terrible thing."