NOTHING HAS CHANGED, INSISTS DJUKIC

BBL LOGO 568Stefan Djukic believes Worcester Wolves still have the confidence to go on and win the BBL Championship despite last week’s home defeat to title rivals, Newcastle.

The 6’7″ forward described the loss as a ‘minor setback’ which brought an end to the club-record run of 14 straight victories in all competitions.

“We started really badly and Newcastle started really well,” Djukic said. “They were more determined to win and that was reflected in the score, it was an important win for them.”

He added: “We don’t feel any extra pressure, the confidence is still there. We know it was just one game and everyone knows what we have to do to be better in the remaining games.”

The team’s attention now turns to the BBL Trophy as they take on the defending champions Sheffield in the semi-finals – played over two legs. The Sharks ran out comfortable 84-63 winners when the two teams met in the league in November, and Djukic is hoping to avoid a repeat scenario.

“We played our worst game of the season against Sheffield when we lost three games in a row, and we can’t let that happen again at this stage of the season.”

Wolves have the chance to reach their first final since winning the 2006 National Trophy, in their final season before making the step up to the BBL.  Djukic realises the importance of the Trophy and has singled out BJ Holmes as a key figure for the Sharks.

He said: “Our aim is to not give space for BJ Holmes to orchestrate the rest of the team.”

Holmes claimed the BBL Trophy Final MVP award last season and has had another impressive season in Sheffield – impressing in particular with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Newcastle last week. Worcester and Sheffield will square off four times in the coming weeks in important Championship and Trophy clashes.

The trio of Will Creekmore, Zaire Taylor and Alex Owumi have been instrumental, each averaging in excess of 18ppg, but the multiple options Coach James has at his disposal has aided the team’s transformation this season.

Worcester have always been able to attract an array of top talent to the West Midlands with the likes of Anthony Paez, Rod Middleton and Tommy Freeman gracing the BBL in recent years. This season however, it’s their strength in depth that has seen the Wolves become title contenders.

Djukic agrees: “Definetly. Everytime we have lost a game this season we didn’t have our full roster. I’m not using it as an excuse, but in a deep roster, you never know whose day it can be unless you have got everyone available.”

Everyone has their role on the team with the likes of Jamal and Kai Williams, Kalil Irving, Andreas Schreiber as well as Djukic all coming to the fore in different games with valuable contributions.

It was the turn of Djukic a few weeks ago when the 24-year-old produced a 30 point display on 12-15 shooting against the lowly Knights in less than 28 minutes on court. The Serbian-born forward has been a regular starter for Paul James’ side and averages a solid 6.8 points per game whilst shooting at 61% from the field.

He said: “I was pleased, but not overwhelmed. It was one of those days… and it just so happened that I had more minutes that day. There is always room for improvement and I believe I can do better.”

Like any newcomer to the UK, there is always an adjustment period to the style of basketball played in the BBL and Djukic is no different. Having had spells with teams across Europe, in Serbia and Portugal, he has noticed similarities and contrasts with the various leagues.

“I think I’ve adjusted well as the BBL is more or less the same level as the Portuguese First Division, just with different styles of play. You have two main teams (in Portugal) with EuroCup budgets and there’s a big discrepancy between the top three teams and the rest. In the BBL, the teams are more competitive with no anticipated winner.”

He added: “With the Serbian leagues, you can’t really compare as they are more similar to the Spanish one’s. I believe only Leicester play in a similar way to the teams there.”

With a couple of years of professional basketball under his belt, Djukic is determined to finally win some silverware.

“I’d love to,” he said. “In my first season, I was in Partizan Belgrade playing for the 2nd team and practice was sometimes with the first team. That was the year they made it to the EuroLeague Final Four and I had a similar situation as a junior in Benfica so I know the mentality that’s needed and what it takes to be successful.”

“However, I’ve only witnessed this and haven’t been a part of it, so I’d love to be a champion myself.”

As well as striving to win silverware with Worcester, Djukic also has national aspirations in the back of his mind ahead of an important summer for the Portugese national team. Despite being born in Serbia and being half-Montenegrin, the 24-year-old has decided to follow in the footsteps of his father by electing to represent Portugal.

He explained: “My father played football in Portugal for 10 years, so that’s how I got the citizenship. When I was younger, I had aspirations to play for either Serbia or Montenegro, but the reality is different. I’m hoping to join the (Portuguese) 12-man squad this summer and get my chance.”

His first priority lies with Worcester and Djukic believes it’s just a case of doing what has served them so well so far in the race for the title.

“We have to keep doing what we have been doing all season and not allow ourselves to ‘slip up’ again, because in the end, we are the best team.”

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