Montenegro, The Big Men Factory

09 April 2013

EUROBASKET 2013

14. Bojan Dubljevic (Montenegro)
Bojan Dubljevic was named winner of the 2012-13 Eurocup Rising Star Trophy

On Monday and within hours of each other, Montenegrin internationals Bojan Dubljevic and Nikola Pekovic won individual awards on different sides of the Atlantic.

The Valencia Basket power forward won the Eurocup Rising Star trophy, while the Minnesota Timberwolves center was named Player of the Week in the NBA Western Conference.

The simple coincidence of two frontcourt players who are compatriots and born within a few kilometres of each other, earning individual distinctions in important competitions on the same day, would still be noteworthy even if they came from a nation as big as, say, Russia.

The fact however that they both hail from a country with a population of only 625,000 people, they are contemporaries, and they are not even the only two really, really good big men of their generation in that small Balkan country, makes it downright remarkable.

To put it into perspective, according to the 2008 Urban Audit of the European Union, which also included data for Croatia, Switzerland, Norway and Turkey, approximately 68% of Europeans live in urban areas of at least 100,000 residents.

In other words, if you are reading these lines, there is a good chance you live in a metropolitan area that has as many, if not more, residents than the entire country of Montenegro.

The small former Yugoslav Republic who declared independence from Serbia in 2006, is nothing less than a global phenomenon in basketball.

 

STARS OF THE BLACK MOUNTAIN

Dubljevic, who will turn 22 in October, averaged an efficiency rating of 13.7 per night in the Eurocup and was Valencia's second-leading scorer with 13.3 points per game and leading rebounder with 4.8 boards per contest.

The youngster is also impressing in his first season in the Spanish Liga Endesa, where he averages 11.3 points and 3.5 rebounds during his first season in what is generally considered the best national league in the continent.

Pekovic meanwhile, who turned 27 in January, averaged 25 points on 59% shooting from the floor and 8.5 rebounds during the first week of April; he is only the second European to earn Player of the Week honours this season, after France's Tony Parker.

Minnesota are out of contention for a spot in the NBA play-offs, but the 2.09m center has had an outstanding season, contributing on average 16.1 points and 8.8 rebounds a night and it's not a secret he will be one of the most sought-after free agents in the off-season.

Another center that is turning heads in the NBA is Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic, who is the second-leading rebounder in the league with 11.8 boards per game, behind Dwight Howard of the Lakers.

Vucevic, just one year older than Dubljevic, erupted on the big stage at the U20 European Championship in 2009 and is also from Montenegro.

Nikola Mirotic of Real Madrid, the only player to have won the Rising Star award in the Euroleague two years in a row, is a Spanish international but was born and raised in the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica.

He moved to Spain as a teenager and led 'La Roja' to the gold medal at the 2011 edition of the U20 European Championship with a stratospheric 27-point, 10-rebound tournament average.

14. Nikola Pekovic (Montenegro)
Nikola Pekovic is playing his best season in the NBA, averaging 16.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per night

Pekovic and Vucevic have the potential to become All Stars in the NBA, just like the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc.

The names of Dubljevic and Mirotic on the other hand, will be at the top of the list when Dirk Nowitzki, hopefully in a very distant future, retires and the discussion on who is the best European power forward commences.

Not even Mirotic's adopted country, the two-time European champions Spain, can claim to have produced four big men of this calibre in the space of just five years.

Genuinely talented and skilful frontcourt players will always be a precious commodity in basketball, but in Montenegro, at this point in time at least, they seem to spring up in every corner.

If one adds to the mix the likes of power forward Vladimir Dragicevic, who currently plays at Spartak St Petersbourg, veteran center Blagota Sekulic, the always useful Milko Bjelica, the towering present of Slavko Vranes at 2.30m and the 2.09m-tall small forward Vladimir Dasic, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Montenegro head coach Luka Pavicevic will be spoilt for choice when it comes to picking his team for EuroBasket 2013.

Montenegro were the tallest side at EuroBasket 2011, but still did not manage to qualify to the Second Round.

There were however mitigating circumstances: Pekovic was coming off an injury and was not in top shape, Vucevic was not the mature player he is today and Dubljevic was not even on the team, as he had just presented his international credentials at the U20 European Championship that summer, where he made the All-Tournament Team.

If all three though stay healthy and are available to play in Slovenia, Montenegro will have one of the most formidable frontcourts at the EuroBasket, and definitely the most impressive line-up of big men any country of this size has ever showcased in the history of basketball.


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