ZAGREB (Euroleague/EuroBasket) - Slovenia are less than a year away from hosting the most important basketball event in their history, the EuroBasket.
The national team, which on Sunday was drawn in Group C against Spain, Croatia, Poland, Georgia and the Czech Republic, is expected to be among the contenders for gold with the home support.
At bare minimum, Slovenia will be looking to play well enough to earn a trip to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The coach who is supposed to lead them, Bozidar Maljkovic, can now fully focus on the task at hand after taking the surprise decision to step down as coach of Cedevita Zagreb.
Having led the club to victories in its last two Turkish Airlines Euroleague encounters to put Zagreb firmly in the hunt for a spot in the Top 16, the club has announced that Maljkovic has left for personal reasons.
He has done so at a critical point of the season.
"I am terribly angry," Cedevita general manager Matej Mamic said on Wednesday at a press conference that was supposed to be about Thursday's game at Milano.
"We believe that, because of our relationship, we should be correct and should sit down and try to fix things.
"I'm not saying that I would be able to solve them, but I would have tried to alleviate at least some of his views. So I need to be angry, especially at the moment when it occurred.
"We worked well even though we did not agree on everything, and that is why I am surprised that the coach leaves before the most important games of the season."
Cedevita, who will be led by Jaksa Vulic at Milano, must immediately put the Maljkovic decision behind them and be ready for a battle of
"We can only speculate about what the team's reaction will be," Vulic said.
"I hope the reaction will be positive."
Cedevita center Miro Bilan is confident they can meet the challenge.
"The departure of the coach can bring a positive shock for the team," he said.
As for Slovenia, Maljkovic coached the team at EuroBasket 2011 where they failed to impress.
The team reached the Quarter-Finals but ended up seventh and missed out on a spot at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
The coach is famous for having led Jugoplastika Split to European titles in 1989 and '90, and having steered Limoges to a shock Euroleague crown in '93.
The last of Maljkovic's Euroleague title triumphs came in '96 when he was at the helm of Panathinaikos.