By Josh Cohen
Sept. 1, 2017
ORLANDO — Spain, a standard frontrunner in international competition, is by far the most talented and experienced team in EuroBasket 2017. As luck of the draw would have it, Nikola Vucevic and his fellow countrymen were the first opponent to be exposed to Spain’s excellence and precision.
While Vucevic played fairly well against Spain’s star-studded frontline that features the Gasol brothers, Pau and Marc, and Willy Hernangomez, Montenegro didn’t have the depth to keep pace with the defending EuroBasket champions. Vucevic posted 16 points and five rebounds in the 99-60 loss on Friday in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
Montenegro is participating in EuroBasket 2017 as a result of a strong showing in last year’s qualifiers. It’s the third time since joining FIBA in 2006 that Montenegro is involved in this competition. Vucevic has played for his home nation each time.
Unlike its prior appearances, though, Montenegro has high hopes of reaching the knockout stage. While Vucevic is the only current NBA player on the roster, two others were previously drafted by NBA franchises. Both in 2013, Marko Todorovic was selected 45th by the Blazers (rights presently held by Rockets) and Bojan Dubljevic was chosen 59th by the Timberwolves.
About to start his seventh NBA season and sixth with the Orlando Magic, Vucevic shot 7-of-18 from the field and he knocked down one of his three 3-point attempts during Friday’s contest. Extending his range and becoming a more reliable outside shooter is at the forefront of his development. He made 23 triples last year, 16 more than in his first five seasons combined.
Montenegro resumes pool play on Saturday when it faces Hungary. Croatia, Czech Republic and Romania are the other countries in Group C. Spain has won three of the last four EuroBasket titles. It hasn’t finished worse than fourth in this competition since 1999 and has claimed two silver medals and a bronze in the Summer Olympics over the last decade.