Kovacevic proving to be the missing link for new 3x3 power Amsterdam
AMSTERDAM (Netherlands) - The new-look Amsterdam Talent & Pro had their breakthrough first World Tour triumph at the Doha Masters.
In what could be made into Disney's next hit film, Amsterdam produced a sports fairy tale in the season opener with boom recruit Maksim Kovacevic scoring 13 points and hitting a Tissot Buzzer Beater for the ages to sink Novi Sad in a spectacular final.
There was a lot of hype over the signing of the former Liman star but not even the biggest Amsterdam fan could have predicted such a perfect start, where they won all five games in Doha and had the type of chemistry only Will Smith and Martin Lawrence can dream of.
They followed that success by taking out the second stop in the United League Europe in Russia by once again defeating Novi Sad in the decider having earlier beaten defending World Tour Final champions Riga.
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It was all supposed to be a work in progress for Amsterdam, who have been without injured star Dimeo van der Horst and retired greats Jesper Jobse and Sjoerd van Vilsteren aka 'the flying Dutchman'.
They appeared impossible holes to replace but enter 34-year-old Kovacevic, who had established himself as a very capable player but was often squeezed out in the star-studded world number one's line-up.
After Liman agonizingly fell short last season, Kovacevic and his teammates mutually agreed to part ways knowing he had outgrown his role - like Justin Timberlake leaving NSYNC.
He had his sights immediately on the always competitive Amsterdam, who frustratingly could never quite get over the hump and into the top tier of Liman, Novi Sad and Riga.
"I saw Amsterdam as a really professional team," Kovacevic said. "Every single tournament they were so close but yet so far. I approached them and they were so delightful."
The 1.96m (6ft 5in) player was exactly what Amsterdam required: a sharpshooter who also had the size to dominate inside. More importantly, he had a bucket load of experience after playing in many big games for the Serbs.
"It's nice to have more responsibility and I came here to bring experience," he said. "It was a challenge to push them and I think I also give them fighting spirit."
Kovacevic's influence has already rubbed off on his new teammates in a perfect marriage so far with the Serb the first foreigner to join the Dutch Masters, who have always essentially doubled as the Netherlands' national 3x3 team.
"He brings knowledge, particularly with ball-screens and reading the game," Amsterdam star Aron Roije said.
"We wanted to make the next step. We want to stay in the top eight and needed something special. He really wanted to play with us. It was a win-win situation."
Kovacevic has notably been a calming influence for Julian Jaring, who often struggles to contain his emotions on the court.
"He's been helping me calm down and be patient. Tried to pace me," Jaring said. "He liked to be part of a team that wants to grow. He's been a good addition."
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After finishing the second highest scorer overall in Doha with 34 points, and being particularly clutch having also hit a Tissot Buzzer Beater against NY Harlem in an overtime quarter-final classic, Kovacevic is loving his new life – on-and-off the court.
"Amsterdam is a great city, can go anywhere with a bike," he said with a laugh.
"I've had good feedback (from teammates) and it's been real positive from the start."