PODGORICA (EuroBasket/FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Blagota Sekulic wasn’t sure if he would ever play for a senior national team.
Having represented the former Yugoslavia in youth tournaments, the last time being the 2002 European Championship for Junior Men, he was passed over by Serbia and Montenegro from 2003-06 and then by the Montenegrins (after their independence) from 2008-11.
Last summer, Montenegro needed a veteran to help them survive a 'group of death' Qualification Round campaign for EuroBasket 2013 against Israel, Serbia, Estonia, Iceland and Slovakia and called Sekulic.
He was made captain and Montenegro won all 10 of their games.
“For me, it was the first time to be in the national team and to have immediate success like that, not just to qualify but to qualify in a good fashion, in a big style, was very important for me, for all the players and for basketball in Montenegro,” Sekulic said to FIBA.com.
“I'm very happy about it.”
Sekulic averaged 9.9 points and 4.8 rebounds.
One game stand outs from the qualifying campaign.
Montenegro trailed at Serbia in their second game, 67-54, with 4:30 minutes remaining when they staged a remarkable comeback.
“I remember that we were down by 13 and a lot of people thought the game was over, but not us,” Sekulic said.
Nikola Ivanovic, an 18-year-old playmaker, hit a shot from beyond half-court just before the final buzzer for a 73-71 Montenegro win.
“We tried hard, we fought our way back and then there was that incredible shot,” Sekulic said.
“That is probably the shot that I'm going to remember all my life.”
Ivanovic excelled all summer.
“He is a great kid,” Sekulic said, “very young but is playing already with a great feel for the game and a lot of experience and he has everything in front of him right now.
“I think the sky is the limit for him.”
Sekulic was also impressed by Bojan Dubljevic, who only turned 22 in October.
The 2.05m power forward is now having a terrific season with Valencia Basket.
He and Sekulic, who plays for CB Canarias, met over the weekend before their teams played in a Spanish Liga Endesa game on Saturday.
“He's a great kid and I like to see him and we had a great couple of hours together and I really enjoyed it,” Sekulic said.
The national team passion
Sekulic says it was truly special to play for Montenegro.
“There are a lot more emotions involved when playing for your country,” he said.
“There is definitely a different feeling.
“I think definitely the best feeling that you can have is to play for your national team.”
Did he fear that moment might never arrive?
“There are a lot of good players in the Montenegro national team, especially in my position,” he said.
“We have like 10 big guys that can play in the team.
“Last summer, we missed a couple of NBA players (Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic and Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic), big guys, and they asked me to try to help and that was the situation.
“I was glad the call came. I was glad I could help the team with all my experience win all those important games.”
Sekulic says the success Montenegro enjoyed in 2012 does not mean the national side is guaranteed to do well at EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia.
Montenegro will play in Group B against Serbia, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (MKD), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lithuania and Latvia.
“It's hard to predict right now,” he said.
“First of all, we have to see if we are going to be healthy.
“But if we are all healthy, we have a tough group, but I think we can do really good stuff this summer.
“The team is only going to get better with a couple of more players and I think really we can be a big surprise this summer.”
Will Sekulic maintain his place in the squad?
“It's difficult to say right now,” he said.
“There are a lot of big guys, a lot of good players at my position. I really don't know. We'll see.”
The only thing that matters, Sekulic says, is that Montenegro put their best foot forward.
“We are all in this together,” he said.
“No matter if you make the team or not, it's important for Montenegrin basketball that we have a good team, that we have a good atmosphere around the team.
“I think the fans recognize that we started something good last summer.
“They enjoyed last summer and are looking forward to the EuroBasket.”