AVELLINO (EuroBasket) - Over the last 12 years, Jaka Lakovic has dedicated his summers to playing for Slovenia's national team and helping it emerge as a contender in leading international tournaments.
Over that period of time, the 34-year-old point guard has taken part in no less than six EuroBaskets and two FIBA World Championships. However, he is still chasing that elusive medal.
Slovenia came agonisingly close to taking a bronze at EuroBasket 2009, losing to Greece 57-56 in the Third-Place Game.
This summer, the Slovenians will have a great opportunity to contend once again, as the hosts of EuroBasket 2013.
Lakovic, the team captain, has indicated that this could well be his last run with the national side.
"I have been playing for Slovenia for 12 straight years. I think the time for youngsters to take bigger responsibilities will come soon," he said.
Slovenia will open their campaign in Group C, in Celje, going up against Czech Republic, Croatia, Georgia, Poland and the two-time reigning European champions from Spain.
After spending the past two seasons with Turkish side Galatasaray, Lakovic - who helped Spanish giants Barcelona to their last Euroleague title in 2010 - found his niche in Italy in 2012-13 and looked refreshed as he helped Sidigas Avellino go from the bottom of Serie A to finish an impressive 10th and almost reach the play-offs.
"It was a very good experience, I helped the team with some leadership, we changed our mentality and we earned some excellent results," said the 1.85m guard.
"Avellino gave some good energy and passion after some tough months in Turkey. I was a happy player again.
"The Italian experience will help me in reaching EuroBasket with the right shape."
With the club season over, Lakovic can turn his attention to his duties with the national team and know what lies ahead for him.
"I will talk to coach (Bozidar) Maljkovic about my role with Slovenia, but I know that as the captain I must be an example and provide some leadership," he explained.
"I will talk to every team-mate as every player needs to accept his role and fit into the team."
Lakovic knows the event in Slovenia will special not just for him and his team-mates but for the nation as a whole.
"Our people worked very hard in order to organise an excellent EuroBasket so it will be an important event for the entire country. It will be a prize for all the fans who always followed us all around Europe," he said.
Over the last 15 years, Slovenia - a country with a population of two million people - has produced eight NBA players: Primoz Brezec, Marko Milic, Bostjan Nachbar, Radoslav Nesterovic, Uros Slokar, Sasha Vujacic had their turn in the world's leading league, while Goran Dragic and Beno Udrih are still going strong.
However, talent alone isn't always enough to win medals. That is why Lakovic is looking to make sure that an x-factor is implemented.
"Chemistry is usually a huge factor in basketball, and we lacked some chemistry so far. We have been working a lot lately and I think we improved," he said.
Lakovic states Slovenia's objective in a straight-forward manner but is aware of the challenges that lie ahead.
"Our dream would be a medal. But we will take it one game at a time, and we know that teams like Spain, France, Turkey and Russia will be very competitive," he warned.
Another major target would be to qualify Slovenia for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, something that can be accomplished by finishing in the top six.
It's a big goal, maybe even big enough for Lakovic to change his mind and decide to play for Slovenia for one more summer.
"It is too early to talk about it. I should say myself 'I really want to play the World Cup'. But it is possible, I will never stop working hard in order to improve," he said.