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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."