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Ub stars Dejan Majstorovic, Strahinja Stojacic share Serbian 3x3 model

Ub has become the barometer of 3x3 success in the club level thanks to a very solid domestic 3x3 program. FIBA (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--It's no question that Serbia is a cut above the rest in men's 3x3 basketball.

In the latest FIBA 3x3 rankings, which was released on Monday following the conclusion of the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Manila Masters in Paranaque, Serbia is way ahead of world number two Lithuania in the total points amassed by the national basketball federations, the main basis for ranking the countries.

Following the Serbians' 1-2 finish in the Manila Masters, they now have over 7.7 million points, while Lithuania, which did not have a representative in the said event, is just a shade below 4.6 million.

World number five USA is even way behind at some loose change above 2.7 million, so it's safe to say that this early, Serbia's spot in the Paris Olympics men's 3x3 event is just a formality away as the four basketball federations with the most accumulated points by the 2023 cutoff will clinch direct spots in the Olympiad.

For Dejan Majstorovic and Strahinja Stojacic, it's all about the dedication to the program.

"We are practicing all year just [playing] 3x3," said Stojacic, the number one 3x3 player in the world right now.

Majstorovic, the world number two, added that most if not all of the Serbian 3x3 players have a very busy schedule.

"If it's a normal year, we expect between 20 and 25 international and about 35 domestic events," Majstorovic said.

This means there is a chance that a Serbian 3x3 player or even a team will be in a tournament every week.

Although Majstorovic added that their team, Ub Huishan NE, is now only focusing on international events like the Manila Masters, the squad basically has only two weeks to shift their attention from one tournament to another on the average, which is too short for preparation.

That is why for Stojacic, the preseason training is very vital.

"When we finish the season in December, we take a little bit rest, and then we have 2-3 months of very difficult practice. After that, we don't have so much time for practice. You just keep your conditioning for the year. Sometimes, it's very difficult, but we are professionals. We must be focused on that," he said.

The result of this program: Serbia's continuous men's 3x3 success evidenced by Ub ruling the two World Tour Masters scheduled this month: the Utsunomiya Opener and the Manila Masters.

Missing the fams

However, the dedication to Serbia's 3x3 program also means sacrificing possibly too much of the players' family time.

That is why, at least for both Stojacic and Majstorovic, they are thankful that their families understand their status as pro 3x3 players.

"For us, our families are a big support for us, and for sure, we miss them too much, but this is our job and that's normal," Stojacic further said.

"It's very difficult, sometimes, but this is our job. We need to do it," Majstorovic added.

As an example, Ub could have just quickly returned to Serbia after ruling the Utsunomiya Masters earlier this month then take at most a week to bond with their families and just fly to the Philippines afterward for the Manila Masters.

Instead, Ub and cross-country rival Liman quickly flew to the Philippines from Japan possibly as part of cost-cutting procedures, which meant they were out of Serbia for basically the entire month of May.

Good thing for them, they could now bring their wives and kids with them this weekend as both teams will be the de facto hosts of the Novi Sad Challenger.

Ub will only get to travel again sometime late June as they will travel to France for the Poitiers Challenger scheduled right at the start of July, which means Stojacic, Majstorovic, Marko Brankovic, and Nemanja Barac finally get more time for their families back in Serbia.

Pinoys can learn the system too

Meanwhile, both Stojacic and Majstorovic believe that Serbia's 3x3 model can be done in the Philippine setting.

However, according to Stojacic, it begins with a choice, recalling the time they had to choose between staying in the 5-on-5 ranks or making a career-altering jump to the 3x3 circuit.

"We all played 5-on-5 basketball for many years, and one day, when we talked, we had two choices: to stay and play professionally in 5-on-5 or go totally to 3x3. It's the same with them. They have two ways," Stojacic further said.

He clarified that the Filipino 3x3 players can continue bouncing between 5-on-5 and 3x3 basketball, but for him, "It's not so much easy. They're totally different games."

Stojacic, however, believes that the current Filipino 3x3 players are "great players" who can compete against some of the top teams in the world.

"They are so talented and they play good basketball," he further said.

He was even all praises to Mac Tallo and Brandon Ramirez, who he believes are "perfect" for 3x3 basketball.

Majstorovic also agrees that Tallo can reach greater heights in the 3x3 circuit, recalling Ub's practice games against Cebu City Chooks prior to the Manila Masters.

"Cebu are very good. We played with them, and it was a tied result. We beat them once, they beat us once. Tallo is an amazing offensive player, and he scored five twos against us," said Majstorovic, adjudged the Most Valuable Player of the Manila Masters.

However, Stojacic added that both Tallo and Ramirez and even all the top Filipino 3x3 players must stay in the 3x3 program rather than jump back and forth between 3x3 and 5-on-5 hoops.

"They need to be focused. They play 5-on-5 more than 3x3, and that's the reason why they can't play with the best teams in the world," Stojacic further said.

Despite that, Majstorovic is very bullish about the development of Cebu with both Tallo and Ramirez at the helm.

"I think they have a space to be better everyday. If they keep working hard, they can be a good team in the world stage too," Majstorovic said.

Stojacic echoed Majstorovic's sentiments and recalled Tallo's vow to him in a short chat.

"He said maybe one day he will focus on 3x3, and I think they will be great," Stojacic said.

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno

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