By JONAS TERRADO
NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets may not be around for host Serbia but three players who won the same award in the European leagues will be around when the Serbians battle Gilas in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Barring any last-minute roster changes, Vasilije Micic, veteran guard Milos Teodosic and Filip Petrusev will lead Serbia’s quest to secure a Tokyo Olympics berth in the Belgrade OQT which starts Tuesday, June 29.
Micic was the Euroleague Most Valuable Player after leading Turkish club Anadolu Efes to the title. He was also named the MVP of the Final Four after defeating the Pau Gasol-led Barcelona in the championship game.
The 6-foot-6 Micic was part of the Serbian team that routed Gilas, 126-67, in Group D of the 2019 FIBA World Cup in Foshan, China, posting 11 points and seven assists in 24 minutes with a +/- rating of 24 and an efficiency rating of 19.
Teodosic is also no stranger to Filipino fans, having represented Serbia in the FIBA World Cup and the Olympics.
The 34-year-old played two NBA seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers from 2017 to 2019 before returning to Europe to play for Italian side Virtus Bologna.
He was named MVP of the FIBA EuroCup but Bologna suffered a semifinal defeat to Russian club UNIS Kazan, but end up winning Finals MVP in Italy as Bolognia beat old rival Olimpia Milano in the national finals.
Petrusev was the MVP of the ABA League Division 1, a league composed of clubs from Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, for Serbian club Mega Soccerbet.
The 21-year-old had faced Gilas players Kai Sotto, Carl Tamayo and Geo Chiu in the 2019 FIBA U-19 World Cup, producing 17 points, eight rebounds and four steals in Serbia’s 87-60 victory over the Philippines in the round-of-16 of the tournament held in Crete, Greece.
Serbia also has another Finals MVP who will play in the OQT in Ognjen Dobric, who was the major reason for Red Star Belgrade’s triumph in the Serbian League finals.
They’ll join NBA players Boban Marjanovic of the Dallas Mavericks and Nemanja Blejica of the Miami Heat, giving Gilas plenty of trouble when the two nations meet on Wednesday, June 30 (early Thursday, July 1 Manila time).
Dominican Republic may not have some big names but it will also likely give Gilas trouble in their final Group A match the following day (early Friday, June 2 Manila time).
Eloy Vargas and Victor Liz are likely to be familiar faces for Gilas coach Tab Baldwin as the two were part of Republica Dominicana’s 86-79 win over the Philippines seven years ago in a tune-up game before the FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Michael Torres Cuevas was listed as among the possible players to watch in the OQT after playing a season with Spanish league club Coosur Real Betis and posting a near-triple double for his country in the FIBA AmeriCup Qualifiers against the US Virgin Islands last February.
Gilas is once again fielding an all-amateur squad for the Olympic qualifier, with a very remote chance of securing a top two finish in order to make the semifinals given the talented players that were mentioned.