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April 11, 1998
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 340
Partizan Belgrade Reaches Final Four Tournament

The Serbs Win Again

by Nenad Stefanovic

"I would have been happier winning this game than the entire Champions League", said Partizan Belgrade's forward Dejan Tomasevic two months ago after a 78-70 defeat at the hands of Cibona Zagreb. Although it was only one of the eight consecutive defeats in the Champions League, it was a national disaster for many. Cibona players were singing "Partizan is dead" upon their return to Zagreb, while "patriotic" Serbian commentators wrote a requiem to Yugolav sports in general. "Serbian sports have been dealt the biggest and perhaps the final blow. Partizan Belgrade are definitely the gravediggers of our sports", one of them wrote.

An eminent Belgrade weekly described Partizan's players as morons whose IQ is well below average. Two months later, Partizan Belgrade's players are once again everybody's heroes. It turned out that those buried before their time can live for quite a while. After a string of painful defeats, Partizan Belgrade lifted itself off the bottom of the Champions League and reached the Final Four tournament, to be held in Barcelona from April 21 through 23. Partizan got past the outgoing European club champions, Olympiajkos Piraeus and CSKA Moscow in the knockout stage. Cibona Zagreb was elated by victory over the Serbs but found Efes Pilsen of Turkey a hard nut to crack and made an exit from the competition in the first knockout round. Cibona's defeat only confirmed the shallowness of the Serbo-Croat tunnel principle that beating each other is more important than winning the Champions League.

Partizan's resurrection was elaborated in a number of ways. The most popular theory is the one linked with sacking Miroslav Nikolic after a string of eight defeats and electing his assistant, Milovan Bogojevic, as the head coach.  With Bogojevic in charge, the players became more relaxed and started winning tough games, while they turned a number of victories into defeats when Nikolic was the coach. Bogojevic made few changes to the game both in defense and offense. The team's revival showed that Serbia has a lot of coaches with a sound theoretical knowledge of basketball and that trophies are won by coaches able to ingrain mental stability in their players. Bogojevic realized that fitting 12 characters and egos into a team is just as important as having a perfect game plan.

Partizan Belgrade is the dark horse of the Final Four. It is by far the youngest team taking part in the tournament. The head coach of the Yugoslav national team, Dusan Ivkovic, said Partizan had a lot of talent and the ability to mix it with the best European teams, but added to that, a lack of international experience could be its undoing in Barcelona.
The team's officials agree that the other three teams taking part are far more experienced. Partizan will play Kinder Bologna of Italy in the semi finals. Kinder's star players are Yugoslav shooting guard Predrag Danilovic and center Zoran Savic. The two have won at least ten gold medals with Yugoslavia and their club at the international level and a hatfull more at the Olympic Games and World Championships. Predrag Danilovic is the best European shooting guard playing for two million dollars per season, which is more than Partizan Belgrade's annual budget. An experienced and costly outfit like Kinder can be beaten only by the likes of Partizan Belgrade, a team with beaming confidence after a string of fine victories.

Whoever wins the Final Four tournament, there will be a Serb or two on the podium. Guard Branislav Prelevic is a starter in AEK Athens while Benetton Treviso of Italy rely heavily on Yugoslav center Zeljko Rebraca and the coaching skills of Zeljko Obradovic. European basketball has been ruled by "Serbian terror" for quite some time now,
Teams headed by coaches from the former Yugoslavia have been the regular winners of the Champions League since 1989. Bozidar Maljkovic won four titles with three different clubs, while Zeljko Obradovic lifted the cup three times with Partizan Belgrade, Joventut Badalona and Real Madrid. Dusan Ivkovic won it with Olympiakos Piraeus, and Zeljko Pavlicevic was the champion with POP 84 Split, while the former Yugoslavia was still one country.

Of the 24 teams that took part in this season's European Champions League, Partizan Belgrade is the only one with no foreigners. Most Yugoslav coaches still believe that we don't need foreigners. Red Star played in the final of the Korac Kup, while Beobanka surprised everybody by reaching the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners Cup. Red Star started the season with an American coach, but the team's officials decided to bring a Serbian expert, Vladislav Lucic, who lifted the team to its greatest heights in years.
It seems that our sports achievements are definitely an internal issue.

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