A silver medal on the back of a 6-2 record is something that 30 other teams that participated in the Fiba World Cup would have gladly traded their return tickets for. For Serbia, however, it was an achievement that came second only to what the team felt it forged in the global showcase.
“We really became brothers in this tournament. We struggled, it was really difficult for us but we worked hard, never gave up and the friendship, brotherhood and chemistry was there,” said an exhausted Nikola Milutinov after an 83-77 defeat to Germany in the final.
“We’ve been through so many difficulties with this group of guys and we got ourselves in a position where we could make our nation even more proud but unfortunately we didn’t make it.”
Serbia looked invincible for most of the World Cup, with a shock loss to Italy in the second round its only blemish heading into the final.Up until a strong showing in a semifinal victory over Canada, where Milutinov, the 7-foot Olympiacos B.C. player, posted 16 points and 10 rebounds to send Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and company down to a bronze medal match against Team USA, Serbia looked every inch the favorite for the Naismith trophy.
However, when he was needed the most, Milutinov had his worst game of the tournament, dropping only two points and four boards while drawing blanks from the field.
“This is basketball, sometimes bad games happen … I’ll just keep working hard, keep pushing and not give up,” Milutinov said. “It was really difficult. I couldn’t find my rhythm the whole game unfortunately and I should have been better, of course.”
Still, despite a lackluster outing, Milutinov felt he had no reason to fret.
Bogdan Bogdanovic certainly did not have one. Not even after posting averages of 19.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game on an efficient 52.6 percent shooting clip to fuel Serbia to the Finals.
He also had 17 points against Germany but his efforts still fell short of gold.
But amid the confetti celebrating a rival’s victory, Bogdanovic had nothing but pride for his brothers.“I’m just happy and proud of these guys. Since day one, nobody believed in this group and we’re just working hard since day one and we achieved something I think,” said the Atlanta Hawk sharpshooter.
Lack of belief
A lot of the lack of belief centered on the absence of National Basketball Association (NBA) champion Nikola Jokic. The Denver star begged off from playing in the World Cup due to fatigue after helping the Nuggets win the 2023 NBA title.
However, coach Svetislav Pesic trusted his core that consisted of Bogdanovic, Milutinov and Aleksa Avramovic to bring them far.And bring them far, they did.
Avramovic saved his best for last for the Serbians, scoring 21 points in the loss against the world’s very best but to no avail.
His efforts weren’t left unnoticed by captain Bogdanovic, as the latter lauded his whole squad for bringing the fight against the Germans.
“It’s all good. I’m really happy about the guys. As I said when we started the preparation, I’m just happy that we responded that way.”
Other than the silver medal and brotherhood forged, the Serbians also punched their ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics where they might accomplish what they couldn’t in Manila and finally get the gold.
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