Peja won't play for Serbia Montenegro, coach says

Updated: May 25, 2006, 7:48 PM ET
SportsTicker

BELGRADE, Serbia Montenegro -- Defending champion Serbia Montenegro will be without star forward Peja Stojakovic at the 2006 World Championships in Japan this summer, his coach told a newspaper.

Stojakovic, who finished the 2005-06 season with the Indiana Pacers, averaged 18.8 points in the 2002 World Championships for Yugoslavia, which stunned Team USA and went on to defeat Argentina in overtime for the title.

However, the former NBA All-Star has not played internationally the last three summers.

New Serbia Montenegro coach Dragan Sakota said in Novosti, a Belgrade newspaper, that the sharpshooter will not be in Japan.

"He couldn't refuse my call as I didn't call him at all," said Sakota, who also coaches Red Star Belgrade. "The story about his presence in Japan started two months ago when we spoke on the subject.

"But, as I have said, the results are not the priority at this World Championship; working on a new, youthful team is. It will be different for the European Championship in 2007, when we will add some of our big names. That is what I have told Stojakovic."

Stojakovic is not the only big name skipping the event for the perennial power, which has fallen on some uncharacteristic hard times of late. Both NBA forward Zeljko Rebraca and European star forward Dejan Bodiroga also will not be on the roster.

"I am really confused why [Stojakovic] is always the subject of talks here as Rebraca and Bodiroga won't play in Japan, either," Sakota said.

Sakota was tight-lipped on whether the country's other NBA stars such as Marko Jaric, Vladimir Radmanovic and Nenad Krstic would take part.

"I didn't say a word on them, right? That's because we'll have to wait a bit and see if they play in Japan," the coach said. "A full list of the names of the players I want to be in our squad this summer will be sent to the federation shortly and soon after we will announce it officially."

Since its world title in 2002, Serbia Montenegro has not lived up to its billing. It failed to get out of group play in the 2004 Olympics and Eurobasket 2005 despite a roster stacked with stars as it was dragged down by chemistry issues.

However, the Serbs received one of four wild cards into the 24-team World Championships, which begins in August. They are in Group A with Olympic champions Argentina, France, Nigeria, Venezuela and Lebanon.