Even in these days of internationalism, certain constants remain in European basketball vis-à-vis player development. BallinEurope’s Marko Savkovic takes a brief look at the current situation in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, with particular reference to Partizan’s Danilo Andjusic and Nemanja Nedovic of Red Star Belgrade.
Ask any coach what a young player needs to develop, and he will answer: “playing time.” Readiness to open the floor to skinny teenagers in order to gradually turn them into match winners used to be one of defining features of ex-Yu ball. Coaches were not advised only by their instinct. The talent pool was wider and deeper. The league was more competitive. Local teams were built on youth systems and were proud of the talent in store. Due to restrictions, these teenagers were not sold abroad early, while guys with more experience were kept on the roster. What was the end result? When one team that was neither from Belgrade or Zagreb – namely, Jugoplastika Split – achieved its unforgettable threepeat.
Two decades later, things have changed dramatically. There are fewer players to choose from. Many youth systems have collapsed due to lack of funding. Yet, teams still must win in order to attract publicity and sponsorships. In doing this, defense is the key. Points are built on discipline, patience, positioning and calculated aggression: This in turn translates into fewer minutes for the youngsters who must learn fast and impress quickly or leave.
Take for instance Danilo Andjusic, who rose to prominence as a 19-year old sharpshooter with Hemofarm. He has struggled with playing time since his arrival at Partizan, earning his right to become the team’s go-to guy in Saturday’s Adriatic League loss against Maccabi Tel Aviv only after Acie Law’s controversial departure.
Though questioned about inconsistency, Andjusic played superbly against the Pride of Israel. Positioned as a combo guard by coach Vladimir Jovanovic, he passed the ball around, made steals, forced fouls, and did what he does best: drained two successive three-pointers to open a run which ended in game’s 15th minute with Partizan up 34-21. Andjusic’s offensive intensity was paired with fine role-filling by Vladimir Lučić and Milan Mačvan. It was only Maccabi’s depth – Jon Scheyer and Yogev Ohayon somewhat unexpectedly scored important points – that forced Partizan into defeat.
Having no point guard in sight might just turn out OK for Partizan, as long as young guys get the space they need. Things won’t necessarily go that way, however.
One year Andjusic’s senior, Nemanja Nedovic has to fight for his minutes again after a move to Vilnius was reportedly called off at the last moment. What was his main concern? You guessed it: playing time. An explosive fast breaker who helped the fledgling Red Star avoid relegation last season, Nedovic found himself sitting on the bench as renowned coach Svetislav Pesic looked for options on both sides of the floor, not only in offense. It remains unclear who exactly started the rumor of imminent transfer or whether the player was in fact really halfway out the door. But we do know that, after what must have been a sleepless night, he paid a house call to his coach, humbly choosing to stay and improve his game.
(The top bolded bit in the Serbian-language Mondo article has Pesic stating that he is proud to have Nedovic on the team and that the player came to him for a tete-a-tete. Pesic also confirms that Nedovic had received an offer from another club. –Ed.)
Whether Nedovic staying will pay dividends for Red Star is still unknown. But so far, so good: in Friday’s opening game, Red Star topped Zlatorog 70-56, with six points scored by Nedovic.
Marko Savkovic fell in love with basketball because: a) his older brother used to play, so it must have been a cool thing to do; and b) he witnessed Vlade Divac, Dino Radja and Toni Kukoc play an exhibition match back in 1988. After learning the fundamentals with Partizan Belgrade, Marko spent four years in FMP Zeleznik’s youth system and another three playing lower-division ball. Years later, as a political science graduate, he found a different career for himself, yet remained devoted to hoops. For BallinEurope, he will be closely following developments in the Adriatic League. You may write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.