The well-known saying “There is no I in team” means that the whole of the group is more important than the individual. And that is ever so true for Vojislav Stojanovic and Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade. When Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade played this past season at the ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT, the team’s players often would pass up on a good scoring opportunity to find a teammate for an even better shot.
That unselfishness cannot always be expected from a group of highly talented players like the ones playing for Zvezda. But Stojanovic knows why he and his teammates are able to do that. “They teach us that way from the time we are kids growing up,” explained Stojanovic of the coaching at Zvezda.
With that kind of attitude and a seemingly endless supply of talent coming from the basketball hotbed of Belgrade, Zvezda has become perhaps the strongest youth club in European basketball. At the 2015 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Madrid, the team made its fifth straight ANGT Finals appearance and has won the Belgrade tournament every year since 2011. One of the reasons for that is the closeness in the team.
“We go to the same school and spend so much more time together. We live together. Most of us eat together, learn together and then practice together. And other clubs don’t do that,” said Stojanovic.
Although the players are a tight-knit group, there is little doubt that Stojanovic is among the best the squad has to offer in terms of talent. He was named to the ANGT All-Tournament Team, which was selected by the competition’s coaches, after leading the event with 6.8 assists, ranking fifth with 2.8 steals, sixth with 7.8 rebounds and ninth in scoring with 14.3 points per game.
Stojanovic has been a main cog in the Serbian club’s rise to the true elite of European junior club basketball, a road that the club has been climbing for years and culminated in Zvezda’s 2014 ANGT Finals title at the Milan Final Four. According to Stojanovic, the run to the 2014 ANGT title actually started back at the 2013 tournament in London. Zvezda lost 77-67 to Joventut Badalona in the second game of the group stage in 2013; that was the Belgrade team’s only loss of the entire ANGT season. And Joventut went on to win the title.
Zvezda drew Badalona in the group stage in Milan as well - and once again in the second game. Zvezda used a 20-2 run to come back from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit and beat Badalona 69-67. That victory pushed Zvezda onto its first ANGT title as the team beat Real Madrid in the final.
"It showed that we are one of the best in Europe and our players are some of the best in Europe,” Stojanovic said. “Before we went there, the Serbian media didn’t think we would win anything in Milan, not beat anybody… After that we were stars.”
Stojanovic was the MVP of the 2014 tournament and went on to take MVP honors of the Belgrade qualifier this season as well. His passion for basketball began around 2003 when he saw James “Scoonie” Penn play for Zvezda against Split on television. “That was it,” said Stojanovic, the older brother of a volleyball playing sister with two parents who have no active connection to sport.
Stojanovic’s coach Slobodan Klipa told the Belgrade media the guard was like a warrior and had the mentality of a champion.
“He’s right,” Stojanovic said. “It comes from my neighborhood. I used to play against older guys and they were better than me. I just shot every night and morning to be better than them.”
That warrior spirit and winning attitude helped Zvezda return to the ANGT final in Madrid - and once again against Real Madrid. This time Stojanovic could not get Zvezda a second title; he fouled out on an offensive foul late in the game and had to watch the final stages of Madrid’s 73-70 victory from the sidelines. But he stepped up and accepted full responsibility for the defeat.
“It was a charge. It was clear. Of course I feel bad. I lost that game. It’s all on me, the whole game. I lost it,” he said afterwards.
The letter “I” may not appear in the word “team”, but it does in responsibility. And Stojanovic lives up to that.