ZAGREB (FIBA U19 World Championship) - Croatia will head to next month's FIBA U19 World Championship as serious title contenders as superstars Dario Saric and Mario Hezonja were both included on the preliminary squad for Prague.
Saric, the MVP of Croatia's U18 European title run last summer, will not be at coach Drazen Brajkovic's training camp when it starts on May 25 in Daruvar.
"Dario Saric is with Cibona right now for the playoffs and he will come to the national team in about 10 days," said Brajkovic, who named a 16-man preliminary roster in preparations for the tournament taking place in the Czech capital from 27 June-7 July.
The coach said Hezonja will be on hand from the start of the preparations.
Brajkovic was very confident about his team's chances in Prague, where Croatia were drawn into Group A with Canada, Spain and Korea.
"For me, the favorites in the group are Croatia, Canada and Spain. With Saric and Hezonja, I think I have a good team," said Brajkovic.
"I know Spain have a very, very good coach. Luis Guil is a very good coach and has a very good team. Canada will be a very good team as well with great players."
Brajkovic also believes Serbia, the United States and Australia will be contenders for the medals as well.
"It will be a very good tournament," he said.
"Of course my goal is the gold medal. But my first goal is the semi-final and we want a medal."
The leaders for Croatia will be Saric and Hezonja, the latter who earned time with the senior team at Barcelona this season.
However, Brajkovic pointed out that there is a lot of talent aside from the two leaders.
"Dario Saric and Mario Hezonja, for me, will be two of the best players at the World Championship. But we have more than them. Mislav Brzoja is a very good small forward. He was one of the best players at the European Championship last year.
"And Martin Junakovic is very good point guard,” said Brajkovic.
The coach has scheduled a warm-up tournament in Dubrovnik with Russia, Argentina and Brazil. Croatia will also go up twice against Serbia.
Croatia 16-man preliminary squad for FIBA U19 World Championship: Ivan Bender, Mislav Brzoja, Filip Bundovic, Lovro Demo, Mario Hezonja, Antun Hrkac, Tomislav Gabric, Josip Gulam, Martin Junakovic, Karlo Lebo, Marin Maric, Dominik Mavra, Jakov Mustapic, Tomislav Rados, Dario Saric, Daniel Zovko.