Yugoslavia won the World Championship last September in Indianapolis with a roster filled with NBA players. You had Peja Stojakovic, Vlade Divac, Predrag Drobnjak, Vladimir Radmanovic... But there were also some new guys, some new faces. One of them, the leader of new Yugoslav generation, is Milos Vujanic, the Knicks' second-round pick in the last NBA Draft. Milos, 22, is the point guard of Partizan Belgrade and also the MVP and leading scorer in the Euroleague, the top level competition in Europe.
However, he will not be the center of attention in this article. We'll introduce some of the younger guys, the new wave of talents in the best basketball nation after the Unites States.
The first name that has to surface is Zarko Cabarkapa, 21, currently playing for Buducnost Podgorica. If his name is already familiar for you, that is because he was one of the "golden dozen" in Indianapolis. The youngest one, by the way. Zarko likes to play the forward spot, but coaches can also use him as a power forward. Watching him on TV and watching him live -- what a difference. Why? On TV, he looks like "one of the guys"... When you watch him live, you realize that he is 6-11, not 6-7. Then you start thinking about the things he can do -- things you are not expecting big guys like him to do. Cabarkapa can run, can shoot, and likes to put a smile on the face of his teammates with great assists.
One year younger and half an inch smaller, you have Blagota Sekulic, member of Partizan Belgrade. As a junior, he played the small forward position, but he wasn't a dominant one. Now, playing the power forward spot, he is trying to use his great athletic skills. He enjoys playing an up-tempo game, but in Europe it is hard to win with that style. He needs more experience in "slower" situations, but it is very hard to find a better runner and finisher in the open court.
Other big prospect -- and we mean BIG -- is Slavko Vranes, a 7-6 kid from Buducnost Podgorica. As soon as you see him on the court, you'll notice he doesn't have enough experience, but his size and wingspan are reasons why you should remember his name. His presence in the paint is something you can't ignore. I've seen guys playing against him and not showing respect for Slavko's defense. Few minutes after, I saw the same guys on the bench.
Nenad Krstic is better-known in basketball world after being drafted by the New Jersey Nets last summer. Nenad, a 19-year-old seven-footer, can play in the low post, face the basket and grab rebounds on both ends. Besides, he is yet another Yugoslav talent with unusual athleticism. When he plays the center spot, he usually takes advantage of his great mobility against slower opponents. Playing the power forward spot, it's his size that makes the difference. NBA scouts had a chance to see him play in the Global Games in Dallas last summer. After that, he has started for Partizan in every game he's played. And it's not about his age. It's about all the good things he is doing for his team. Is there any coach who doesn't like a player who can score, rebound and run the floor well? More experience will lead to more self-confidence. Then, you'll see him taking long-range shots. You'll see him in coast-to-coast plays. You'll see him running and passing better then you ever expected.
Aleksandar Pavlovic, 19, is another Buducnost player. At 6-7, he has the perfect size for his position: shooting guard/small forward. He looks great on the offensive end, being able to hit three-pointers consistently, beat opponents off the dribble and go all the way. And he'll do that without changing his face expression. He is another youngster already playing top level European basketball.
His teammate Ivan Koljevic, 18, is a practice freak. He practices with his team, he practices alone and he also practices before and after games. Ivan works tirelessly on his ballhandling and shooting. And there is always someone guarding him -- in his mind. In real games, Kolja can score from outside, and he likes to drive in fast breaks.
Then, you have Darko Milicic, the 7-0 player from Hemofarm Vrsac whom many project as a top 3 pick in the NBA Draft. Darko is a great athlete with a great body, who can run, pass, grab lots of rebounds and block shots. He looks quite mature already and all the NBA scouts are in love with him. Like all these kids, he needs to improve a lot, but has tremendous potential. One thing is clear, he has to make a decision soon about where he wants to end up playing: the center or the power forward spot. The sooner, the better.
His peer in the National Team, Kosta Perovic, is another big prospect. This 17-year-old kid is the youngest member of Partizan's senior team. He is 7-3 -- and still growing. At first sight, he looks like a giant baby. But he plays like a veteran. Always in a good defensive position, Kosta likes to pass the ball and plays with no fear, but still lacks strength. Another kid without a "I can't, I won't." His persistence will make him a big player.
Partizan has one more talented big guy of the same age. His name is Marko Lekic, a 6-11 player that is the best athlete on this list. No question about it. Has strength, quickness, great leaping skills... He has the bad luck of being the same age of Milicic and Perovic. He has power forward size, but he just recently started playing in that position. Can dunk on anyone and is pretty good shooter, but needs more playing time. With more minutes, he'll get much better.
Predrag Samardziski is Macedonian, but lives in Belgrade, where he plays for Partizan, too. He is 16, stands at 6-11 and has a perfect body. Wide shoulders, strong upper body, he can run and rebound. Predrag doesn't avoid contact, likes to use his body and finish in paint. But if you leave him open on the high post, he can make it. He is quite a experienced player for someone his age. Currently, he is waiting for his turn in Partizan and does his thing with the "B" team in the third division.
At the end of the list, another 16-year-old kid: Uros Tripkovic. He is practicing with the senior team of Partizan Belgrade, where Uros is facing Vujanic every practice, every day. He is quick, has above average ballhandling skills and is a perfect shooter. He can catch and shoot, can shoot off the dribble and can dunk in the fast break.
All these kids know they have to work hard. They are still learning what it takes to be on the top. They are athletic, competitive, self-confident and aware of their burden.
And, of course, this is not the end of the list...
Aleksandar Dzikic is the assistant coach of Partizan Belgrade and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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