Wolves' Jaric lashes back for being blamed for loss
BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- Minnesota Timberwolves guard Marko Jaric is fed up with being raked over the coals for Serbia-Montenegro's failure in the European Championships and blasted coach Zeljko Obradovic for not standing by the players.
A proud hoops nation and hosts for the glamorous event, Serbia-Montenegro was left stunned as the two-time defending world champions lost in the elimination round, failing to reach the quarterfinals.
Before resigning as coach, Obradovic listed a litany of problems with the team, with Jaric's poor relationship with fellow playmaker Igor Rakocevic the biggest. The players were rumored to have fought in the locker room.
"I'm very angry about everything that happened here," Jaric said Tuesday. "I am the kind of man that doesn't run away from responsibility and if they think I did something for my team not to win, and if it was true, then I would take responsibility."
Jaric was a member of the Serbian team that won the European Championships in 2001 and the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis. Those teams exemplified unselfishness and teamwork notably absent with this year's squad.
"Every time when the team wins, everyone is a winner, but when the team loses, the blame is going to go to a couple of players and even to one player," Jaric said. "But I don't care. I was never scared of that. There's nothing to be ashamed of. I gave 100 percent of what I have. I came here to play and win but I didn't make it."
The partisan crowd in Novi Sad showered the hosts with boos during their 89-70 loss to Spain in the tournament opener. Jaric said he was not surprised how quickly the fans turned on the team.
"What people talk or what newspapers say, the truth is we live in an angry world," he said. "You don't know if people want to win or they want you to lose so that they can be hard on you and tougher on you because you are maybe a successful person. This is a pressure that all professional athletes face. But I'm looking forward to it and I probably in the future will play for the national team."
After the 74-71 setback to France, Obradovic told the media that his players fought on occasion.
"I knew about old dissidence between our main playmakers, Marko Jaric and Igor Rakocevic," he said Tuesday. "I held an excellent meeting with them during our preparations and it was really open and sincere communication. But when the preparation games started, the same problems occurred again.
"I still can't understand how someone can care more about getting the ball than if his team wins. Does anyone know how to deal with such things?"
None of the problems, particularly between Jaric and Rakocevic, were made public during the build-up. However, Obradovic freely talks about the issue now.
"The relations between Jaric and Rakocevic was, without doubt, our biggest problem," he said. "I'm sad because of that, as we don't have better playmakers than these two players. In our squad, there was some kind of jealousy as Rakocevic is becoming a leader of the national team."
Obradovic said that after the loss to Spain, he noticed a dejected Jaric and asked Rakocevic to offer him support. But the two did more than talk after the loss to France.
"We are emotional players, there were a lot of hard words said," Jaric said. "We were very disappointed and it's normal that this happens in the locker room, and not because we hate each other; only we were just frustrated with what happened and we knew that we were going to be torn apart by the newspapers and by the people in the coming days."
Jaric thought Obradovic should have kept the team's problems within the team.
"What the coach did to the players at the press conference, he scared a lot of young players," Jaric said. "Nobody wants to be a part of the one team that after that, everyone wants to kill you, including your coach. And I can guarantee you that all those guys are good guys, with a lot of heart, and we all played with a lot of heart.
"Of course, there's no one team that everybody likes each other 100 percent and that everything works 100 percent. Even in the Greek team that won, I am sure that there's some things that didn't work. In the past when things don't work, these things come out."
Jaric said Obradovic's tactic of excluding himself from the team's problems and pointing his finger at the players was unacceptable.
"It's not the way to talk to and pull yourself from the crisis," Jaric said. "We need to understand something. We the players wanted to come here to play for our people and the coaches are paid to come to be in this team and to lead the team. We, the 12 players, have given our hearts out and even if they are coaching for the national team, they are professionals and they are paid.
"Anybody who is a little bit smart knows that we are all here because we want to bring a bit of happiness to these people. We are not doing it because of personal things because we are already successful in the NBA or in Europe and everyone already has contracts and nobody is trying to sell himself using the national team."
In assessing more blame, Jaric fingered the Serbian basketball federation for its selection of Obradovic, who also was unable to guide the Serbs past group play in the 2004 Olympics.
"They let one coach who declared that he was done forever with the national team tear us apart -- the players that this federation needs for next year, the following year and afterwards -- down," Jaric said. "Nobody stood up for the players and protected players from all this stuff."
Although they are the two-time defending world champions, the Serbs need a wild-card invitation from FIBA to participate in the 2006 World Championships in Japan. They likely will receive one of four available
"I really hope so," Jaric said. "I think despite our disappointing EuroBasket, we deserve to defend the World Championship title. And I hope that we can do better. Several things need to change in order for me to consider playing for the national team. At this time I'm very angry but we will see what happens."