ZAGREB (FIBA U19 World Championship) - After helping Croatia to the U18 European Championship title last summer, rising star Dario Saric is excited about re-joining two former teammates and going for gold at the FIBA U19 World Championship.
"I expect us to play very good as a team, and I expect us to reach the Final and win the gold medal," said Saric, the MVP of the U18 European event last year, who will be one of the biggest stars at the 27 June-7 July tournament in the Czech capital Prague.
Saric and Croatia were drawn into the tough Group A with Canada, Spain and Korea.
"I can only say a little bit (about the group) because I only know the team from Spain," the 2.08m forward went on.
"I know the group is very hard, but we were first in Europe last summer and I expect the same result this year."
When asked if Saric and the Croatian team feel the pressure of high expectations, Saric said: "No, no. We really have good chemistry in the team. We are a team from the beginning. We have been playing together since we were 10 years old. We are a good team and we expect first place."
Croatia are much more than just the Cibona Zagreb star Saric as Drazen Brajkovic's team also features Barcelona's 18-year-old star Mario Hezonja, Dominik Mavra from KK Split as well as Mislav Brzoja from Villanova University.
Saric is happy to join the Croatian U19 training camp - after helping Cibona capture the Croatian title - and be re-united with Hezonja and Mavra.
The trio played together in the youth ranks of KK Zagreb Osiguranje and captured the Nike International Junior Tournament (NIJT) title at the 2011 Euroleague Final Four in Barcelona.
"I am really happy to play with them. Mario and Dominik are not just good players and big talents…There was good chemistry in the team. It was a big time for my basketball and Zagreb," said Saric, who won the MVP title at the NIJT tournament after collecting 19 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in the final.
The trio however has never played together for the Croatian national team.
Saric and Hezonja - as well as Brzoja - teamed up at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship in Latvia, where Croatia finished eighth.
"I remember a good player from Lithuania - Jonas Valanciunas…I know we can play like Lithuania did in 2011," declared Saric, who is looking to add a World Championship gold to his European U16 title in 2010 and the 2012 U18 European crown.
"For me and my teammates it would be a big. Not just for the national team but also for all of our careers."