All-time great Savic reigniting his 3x3 career with new Chinese challenge
HONG KONG - After his dreams of playing in the Tokyo Olympics were dashed and with the iconic Novi Sad having split up, 3x3 great Marko Savic was losing motivation in a game he had dominated for a decade.
It was a strange emotion for Savic, who had built up a reputation as one of the most competitive players on the pro circuit culminating in a decorated career where he won four FIBA 3x3 World Tour Final titles with Novi Sad and four FIBA 3x3 World Cup gold medals for Serbia.
When China came calling, seeking the expertise of one of the most decorated 3x3 players ever to lift their men's standard, Savic found the spark he needed as he moved into the next phase of his career as a player-coach.
"I needed something new," Savic said. "It's a new experience coaching. I have a lot of knowledge and experience after 10 years. 3x3 is really developing in China."
A famous glue guy, who made his teammates better, Savic has helped sharpen the talents of China's best 3x3 players through mentoring but also by example with the 6ft. 5in (1.97m) Serb proving he's still got in on the half-court.
The 35-year-old was part of Beijing's impressive quarter-final run at the FIBA 3x3 Montreal Masters 2022 in September and they are hoping to go even further at the first ever Hong Kong Masters on November 26-27.
Beijing are drawn in a tough Pool B alongside No.2 Liman, an old sparring partner of Savic's Novi Sad, and in-form Sakiai Gulbele. But the talented Chinese loom as a dark horse contender having impressively knocked off American teams Princeton and Chicago in Montreal.
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Savic, one of the smartest players to step on the half-court, has particularly enjoyed trying to make his talented teammates more rounded and consistent. A recent two-month trip to his native Serbia saw Beijing play and train with some of the best teams in the world.
"They learned a lot. Now they have seen how the rest of the world plays and what is needed to get to another level," he said.
"Their work ethic is really good. But mentally they need to improve and that will happen through hard work."
Savic's wealth of knowledge and enormous success is hoped to rub off on exciting 26-year-old Peng Yan, who played for Liman in a few events in 2019.
"He needs more confidence, sometimes he doesn't believe in himself. But he is starting to learn," Savic said.
Moving to China presented a different lifestyle for Savic, who has been able to grasp a handful of Mandarin words but communication with his players hasn't proved a challenge.
"The language barrier was difficult at start. But we have a translator and a lot of players understand English. I simplify the words too," Savic said.
Back on the half-court where he belongs, Savic is feeling comfortable in his new journey trying to lift a hoops-loving nation to big heights in 3x3.
"Now that I'm back, I have butterflies in the stomach," he said. "I needed a new challenge."