VITORIA (NBA/EuroBasket) – Nemanja Bjelica admits he is keeping an eye on the Minnesota Timberwolves this season and for different reasons.
The Serbia international’s rights are owned by the T-Wolves, the NBA-club that selected him early in the second round of the 2010 draft and one that is already loaded with Europeans.
Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic were big hits with Minnesota last season, and Russian duo Andrei Kirilenko and Alex Shved have turned heads with their performances so far in 2012-13 after joining Rick Adelman’s team as free agents during the summer.
When he sees Shved and the others put up convincing performances for the NBA club, does that increase Bjelica’s hunger to test his skills and talent in the league across the Atlantic?
“Yes, of course,” he said to FIBA.com.
“I believe everyone thinks like that.
“But you just have to wait your time.
“That means play hard, practice hard.
“If you play good, practice good - that's the most important thing.”
Bjelica’s attention right now is on Caja Laboral, a team that has disappointed in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague but one that is currently second in the Spanish Liga Endesa behind Real Madrid.
“I have a big opportunity here,” he said.
“I am playing a lot, but the most important thing is the team. We need to play like a team.
“I do want to try and play in the NBA one day, maybe next year. I don't know.
“But I'm focused on here right now.”
Bjelica has been able to raise his profile in basketball with his performances for Serbia in international competition the past several years.
He showed flashes of his top-notch, all-round ability at EuroBasket 2009 and helped the Blues capture an unexpected silver medal, and national team coach Dusan Ivkovic took the 2.09m forward with Serbia to the 2010 FIBA World Championship in Turkey, too.
Bjelica’s importance to the team grew, which was evident in a Quarter-Final upset of Spain.
He poured in 14 points as Serbia ended the title defense of Sergio Scariolo’s team.
Serbia went on to finish fourth in that competition.
This past summer, Bjelica had personal bests of 8 ppg and 5 rpg as Serbia survived a very difficult Qualification Round for EuroBasket 2013.
The team went into its last game at home against Israel needing to win to punch its ticket for Slovenia, and it did.
He averaged more than 11 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest over the last four games.
“We almost lost but we showed character and we'll be ready for Slovenia,” he said.
Will this Serbia team be a contender for honors at the EuroBasket and qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup?
“I hope so,” he said, “because a lot of players now play in Europe and will be one more year older with experience.
“We'll be ready for the summer.”