NOVI SAD, Serbia-Montenegro -- By the time the
Serbia-Montenegro basketball coach resigned, the feeling among his
players had grown so bitter that they could no longer look at each
Failing to defend their European Championship title -- and the
locker room scuffle that followed -- was the breaking point.
Zeljko Obradovic stepped down Wednesday, saying that to stay on
as coach "would lead me straight to a madhouse. I'm already ready
for an asylum. That's how I feel. I wish my successor lots and lots
Team captain Dejan Bodiroga, center Zeljko Rebraca of the Los
Angeles Clippers and Dejan Tomasevic also announced they were
quitting the national squad.
France beat Serbia-Montenegro 74-71 Tuesday to reach the
quarterfinals, eliminating the hosts and reigning world champions
with a 2-2 record. Obradovic blamed the team's "catastrophic
play" on his feuding players.
He said Marko Jaric of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Igor Rakocevic of Real Madrid had a fistfight after the loss to France,
as did Tomasevic and forward Vladimir Radmanovic of the Seattle
SuperSonics. Radmanovic and his agent, David Bauman, disputed that,
saying the player did not get into a fist fight after the game.
"Vladimir was not involved in a fist fight at the end of that
game," Bauman said in a statement.
Either way, it was bad blood that sunk their chances.
"The players had bad personal relations, their egos led to this
shameful end," Obradovic said. "My mistake was not throwing three
or four of them off the team. They hate each other so much that
they don't even look at each other. I've never seen such people
Tuesday's loss was the third straight setback at a major
championship for Serbia-Montenegro, once the dominant power in
European basketball. The team finished sixth at the previous
European Championship two years ago and 11th at last year's Athens
Serbia-Montenegro and the team formerly known as Yugoslavia have
won eight European titles, but this was the team's worst showing at
the Euros since a ninth place finish in 1967.
Serbia-Montenegro, led by five NBA players, had been expected to
reach at least the quarterfinals. Instead, the team will not place
among the top six European teams that qualify for the World
Championship in Japan next year. The Serbs now hope they will get a
wild card to be able to defend their title.