By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbian Nemanja Nedovic is thrilled to be heading to the NBA with the Golden State Warriors but says he is first focused on bringing glory to his national team in next month's European Championship.
The Warriors plucked the versatile guard from relative obscurity in the first round of the 2013 NBA draft and will be closely watching his progress at the tournament in Slovenia.
Nedovic, who can play either as a point guard or shooting guard, spent four years at Red Star Belgrade until 2012 before he caught the eye of NBA scouts in one season with Lithuanians Lietuvos Rytas, even though his team made little impact in the Euroleague.
"Being drafted to the NBA in the first round is the best thing that's happened to me and it has given me a tremendous confidence boost," Nedovic told Reuters in an interview.
"I am overjoyed and looking forward to my first season with the Warriors, but right now I am completely focused on the national team," he added after Serbia's 91-66 rout of Slovenia on Sunday in the final of a four-nation tournament.
The 22-year-old's talents again came to the fore in that win which was a build-up to the 24-team European Championship where the Serbians will hope to finish in the top eight and qualify for the 2014 World Championship in Spain.
"It was very important to win this tournament and it will be an incentive to keep working hard in order to peak in time for the European Championship," Nedovic said after scoring a game-high 20 points, garnished with several spectacular assists and iron-clad defense.
"The Slovenians will be fired up in front of their noisy home fans at Eurobasket 2013, while we have switched off regarding expectations where we might finish although the primary objective is to reach next year's World Championship in Spain."
Nedovic made his Serbia debut last year in the European Championship qualifiers when the 2009 runners-up struggled for long spells before squeezing through with a last-gasp win over Israel.
Missing a guard of Nedovic's skill had been one of the glaring chinks in Serbia's armor in the last few years and few pundits expected the fairly anonymous youngster to come through the ranks so quickly when coach Dusan Ivkovic picked him last year.
Nedovic left no doubt about how much he owes trophy-laden Ivkovic, who won three European and one world title with the former Yugoslavia plus a host of club honors including 1997 and 2012 Euroleague titles with Greek side Olympiakos Piraeus.
"Ivkovic is certainly the best coach I have ever worked with and these young players should be privileged to be here," said Nedovic.
"No matter who makes the final cut into the 12-man roster for the European Championship, everyone involved will have benefited from the three-month-long build-up period.
"I will gladly take the responsibility of being one of the key players for my country in Slovenia because the coach has given me a lot of credit and authority on the court and I am doing my very best to repay his faith."
While heaping praise on Nedovic after his performance against Slovenia, Ivkovic also struck a note of caution.
"He will face many trials and tribulations in his rookie season in the NBA and I will certainly try to prepare him as much as I can for what's coming," said the 69-year old coach.
"The lad is an exceptionally talented player and an excellent athlete, he comes from a family with a rich sports heritage and I am convinced that Serbian basketball has acquired a quality guard in the long term.
"It's up to him now to keep working hard and fulfill his potential."
(Reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Ken Ferris and Simon Evans)