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Euro-Nets Succeeding Despite Different Challenges

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The competition may vary wildly from Iceland to Qatar, but three of the Nets' four European "properties" are doing quite well this summer in exhibition games between national teams.

Nets players Nenad Krstic and Zoran Planinic and 2004 draft choice Christian Drejer, all only 22, are all succeeding under very different circumstances. All are sporting the uniforms of their homelands rather than Nets colors, Krstic for Serbia-Montenegro, Planinic for Croata, and Drejer for Denmark, but each is facing a unique challenge.

Krstic has become the new hope of Serbian hoops. The "Blues" were favorites to win gold or silver at the Athens Olympics, but instead finished 11th out of 12. The big names of Serbia basketball are either missing (Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic), getting older (Dejan Bodiroga, Zeljko Rebracca and Dejan Tomasevic) or still disappointing (Darko Milicic). So the Nets' center has become the national hoops hope. So far, so good. He is averaging 11 points per game in limited minutes through two exhibition tourneys, the Pro Monte Super Cup in Montenegro and the Efes Pilsen World Cup in Turkey, winning the MVP in Montenegro.

Planinic, on the other hand, faced low expectations with Croatia. Once the star of Croatia's youth teams, he had fallen into disfavor, in part because he hadn't spent a lot of time with the national team the past two years and because of his disappointing two seasons in New Jersey. When the Croatians began practicing, he was seen by some as the team's third string point guard behind Marko Popovic and Roko-Leni Ukic, both popular young players. Not only did Planinic move past his two point guard competitors, but his coach talks about him as if he is the team's best player! He is averaging 14.5 points per game through the Trofeo dell' Adriatico in Italy and the Pro Monte Super Cup.

Drejer's challenge is different still. He is generally viewed as the best player ever produced by Denmark, averaging 32 points per game as a 19-year-old in the Danish league three years ago, then following that up with a 33 point per game performance in the FIBA Under-20 Tournament that summer. (He was that tournament's high scorer; Krstic its top rebounder.) But in the intervening years, he has gone from disappointment to disaster, leaving the University of Florida in a huff for a professional contract in Spain, then being unceremoniously and publicly dumped at the end of the F.C. Barcelona bench before playing dreadfully on the Nets' summer league team in July. Now he must start to redeem himself and his career in the comfortable surroundings of Denmark, but against second rate competition like Finland and Iceland. He is doing well too, averaging 21.7 points per game...but has a longer haul ahead.

Unlike Serbia and Croatia, Denmark didn't qualify for the he continent-wide Eurobasket 2005 tournament set to open in Belgrade September 16. Instead, he is hoping to continue his professional rehabilitation in the Italian League this fall in hopes of giving his NBA dream one more shot.

(The Nets' 2005 second round pick, Mile Ilic, is not playing on the Serbian team but is instead practicing with his Serbian club team, KK Reflex, outside Belgrade. There, he will no doubt be watching the exploits of his best friend, Darko Milicic.)