heinnews’s David Hein this week is at the 2009 EuroBasket Women and had a chat with Serbian small forward Sonja Petrovic of three-time reigning EuroLeague Women champions Spartak Moscow Region. They met up twice in Riga, once before the tournament started and then after Serbia bowed out with three straight losses. They discussed Petrovic’s recovery from her knee surgery; Serbia’s young team; beating Russia two years ago; her plans for the summer; playing for a male coach; and interpreting for her coach at press conferences.
heinnews: Hi Sonja. Back again in the mix. First off, how is the knee?
Petrovic: It’s okay. I think I’m completely recovered. But these are my first games competitively. So I hope that everything will be okay.
heinnews: You played in seven warm-ups before the tournament. How is the confidence in the knee?
Petrovic: Yeah I have confidence and I think I did my recovery and everything went well, especially with the support of the club and everyone who works there. And the effort that I put in is coming back now. I really couldn’t be sure with anything. With the pressure and the physical effects. You never know after such a serious injury. So I’m not yet sure if I am prepared for that, but we will see.
heinnews: Think about this team. You have a lot of very young but very talented players on this team. Serbia have had some problems over the past 10 years. Is this sort of a golden generation?
Petrovic: We have a lot of good young talented players. In the past five years our younger generations really did a good job at collecting medals. We have a lot of players who in the future can be the main players on our team. But we don’t have a lot of experience and that’s probably our biggest problem. Because even the older players don’t have a lot of experience in Europe or the European championships. So I really don’t know what we can expect. Some times we can win some big games like when we beat Russia two years ago. But then we can lose big games too, especially after you play one game after another. You really never know in this kind of tournament.
heinnews: Two summers ago, Serbia handed eventual champions Russia their only loss of the tournament. What did that victory mean for the team?
Petrovic: After that moment all the players were so excited and we were so happy to beat Russia, who were the European champions and everything. You were playing against the players you admire so much and you want to look like them and play like them. And then we beat them. It was really unexpected for us. But then we lost the next day against Italy. And that was the price of our youth and inexperience. But it’s something that we can always say – that we beat Russia that year. It’s something that gives us hope for in the future that we can do big things because we have the potential, that’s obvious.
heinnews: Is that moment something that you share with your teammates a lot?
Petrovic: Before coming here, we met with the journalists and they asked what we expect. And we said we have Lithuania and Turkey and then Russia. Maybe we can beat Russia since we beat them two years ago. Anything is possible. We really don’t know what to expect in this European Championship. We don’t have such big expectation. This team is really just trying to build for the Olympic Games in London. This is just one more step in the organization of that. We started in Italy and now we want to do more in Latvia just to do better than we did in Italy. Because in 2007 we only had two victories and now we want to go one step further.
heinnews: There are quite a few of you on the team younger than 22. How special is the friendship bond this team has?
Petrovic: Even the players that I didn’t meet before the national I met during my years in club in Serbia or abroad. I can really say that I have true friends, that I can really relax. Especially after my injury I know that there are people who will do everything for me and they will support me. So everything is easier even on the court. Because if you believe in somebody off the court it’s easier to trust them on the court. That’s one of the good things for us. We maybe don’t have the same quality as the big teams, the big players, the big names. But we have the team and we have the bond between the players. So I think that’s one of the good things. We go out together, we laugh together. That’s a plus for this team.
heinnews: Looking back to this past season, how hard was it for you to sit on the sideline and miss a whole season?
Petrovic: I think everything that happens in life has its good and bad sides. Right after I realized how bad my injury was I could see my future going in front of my eyes and I didn’t know how my club would react. But when I saw all the support around me, my family and my club, it was really everything much easier. I can really say that the time flied. I was surrounded by so many great people. I didn’t play at Spartak but I just watched the best players in the world. I could see that just by watching them I learned a lot. So there were some really good things coming from my injury.
… (The rest of this interview was done after Serbia were eliminated) …
heinnews: The team lost three times, and there really weren’t a lot of high points in those games, unfortunately to say. What do you and the team want to take out of this experience?
Petrovic: Of course we knew this could happen because we have a tough group. But we were hoping for more. After this we are so disappointed. Not because of three losses but more because the way we played all three games. We have to think about this now. It’s true that we have a young team and all this, but our relationship to the game, and not just the way we played but the way we act on the court, I think that’s the biggest problem. We still have to learn to play with each other. Even though we know each for a long time we really don’t feel like a team. I just hope in two years we can get through qualifications and bring in even more younger players and we can have a better atmosphere in the team. And we will play better as a team because every body has a bad feeling after this tournament. Everybody will have a lot to think about.
heinnews: So, let’s forget about this tournament and look forward. What do you have planned for the rest of the summer? Will you be playing at the U20 European Championship?
Petrovic: I can play at the U20s. But I have to see with my club if I will play because I have only played three games and I hope for some more because of my recovery. I will speak with my club if I can play in July at the U20s.
heinnews: Over the rest of the summer, whether that’s at the U20s or not, what are some of the things that you will be working on?
Petrovic: I just hope I can play. Even playing here and the games we had I can be happy with myself because finally I am playing after everything I have been through. I just hope I can have a couple more games over the summer. Because after the whole season of not playing I just want to play so much. I just want more minutes on the court and it will be good for my recovery.
heinnews: You know so many of the Russian players so well and they know you as well. But what was it like playing against Russia in the second game of the group?
Petrovic: It was really hard, especially since almost all of the head staff of Spartak are here with the team. Still I’m glad to see them. And every one of their players is so good. You cannot relax for one minute. It was so hard for us. We didn’t have the opportunity to take easy shots. We had to struggle to score. And even if we did score it was really hard. And they were not relaxed like two years ago because they knew that we can beat them. So it was really hard. But 37 points in 40 minutes was really depressing.
heinnews: Over the years you have had some men and women as coaches, what do you think about the differences? Do you think it’s better at times to have a woman at all?
Petrovic: I think for our team a woman coach would not be so good. I just think girls are a little bit special. There are so many non-basketball things that are involved. So sometimes it’s better to have a male coach and have somebody who can yell at you if it’s necessary because we can be really complicated.
heinnews: At the press conferences for this tournament you have twice been asked to interpret for your coach Jovica Antonic. Is that strange at all?
Petrovic: He doesn’t speak English very well and chooses who should come to the press conference with him. But it is a little bit strange. But it’s okay. It’s tough to remember everything he says. And then I have to come up with the words in English as well.
heinnews: Well, your English has gotten very good and we wish you all the luck in the future and stay healthy.