For the fourth consecutive season, Zenit St. Petersburg has started its preseason camp in Vrsac, Serbia. It is a city with great 7DAYS EuroCup tradition. Local club Hemofarm Vrsac made it to the competition's semifinals three times -- in 2005, 2006 and 2009 -- and sent players like Stefan Markovic, Boban Marjanovic and Milan Macvan on to stardom. Another of the players who started his EuroCup career in Vrsac was forward Marko Simonovic, who is now the only Serbian player on Zenit.
"I used to play for Hemofarm 10 years ago, so I guess this is my city!" Simonovic told Eurocupbasketball.com. "I don't have many chances to go to Serbia during the season and Vrsac is my wife's hometown. My family is here and all the free time I have, I spend it with my wife and my daughter. I am really enjoying that."
Knowing the city so well, Simonovic is fully available for his teammates during Zenit's stay in Vrsac, although he says that some of them do not need much help.
"Only the Americans really need it," he said. "Russians can understand Serbian as much as we can understand Russian; they are very similar. This is the fourth season that Zenit comes to Vrsac for its pre-season camp, too. More or less, they know everything about Vrsac. But if our American players need help, I there 24/7 for them. Anything they need, in practice or out of it, in the hotel, we try to help them and that also help us build a team spirit."
Simonovic, 32, has spent most of his 16-season pro career in Serbia or neighboring Montenegro, with one-year stops in Belgium, Germany and France. But this will be his second season with Zenit, and he's looking forward to building on the team's quarterfinals run in the EuroCup last season.
"We started to prepare for the season seven days ago, going step by step," Simonovic reports. "It is a process, but everything is going well so far. It is tough, as always. Preseason camp is hard and players don't like it that much, but it must be done because it is very important."
By going together to a foreign country, Zenit wants players to interact with each other, creating a bond off the court that can help the team in the upcoming season.
"We are doing a lot of stuff off the court to get the team together. We go to dinner together and when we have a morning off, we try to get together and drink some coffee. We talk a lot about what our coaches want and what the team needs to get better. The idea is to adjust to each other and become a good team as soon as possible."
Simonovic expects that in his second season in St. Petersburg, he will have an increased role in the locker room this season.
"As one of the most experienced guys in the team, I have to show people how things are if you want to become a good team and fight for the EuroCup title. We have to go by step by step and become a better team as the season goes on. And this is what I am trying to do -- help everyone and give my best."
One of Zenit's newcomers, forward Jarrod Uthoff, comes straight from the United States, with no prior European experience. Simonovic wants to use their time together in Vrsac to help Uthoff know what to expect.
"Jarrod is a great guy and understands that basketball is different in Europe," Simonovic said. "We try to give him a lot of advice about basketball in Europe. Coaches here want to play team defense, unlike in the NBA. Over there it's more individual and here it's more team-oriented. He is the kind of guy who wants to listen and learn, and I am sure he will be ready for the beginning of the season."
Asked about the upcoming EuroCup season, Simonovic agreed on how tough it will be for all teams this season.
"I believe it is probably one of the best EuroCup seasons ever, even the best," he said. "It is going to be very tough, but we have ambition and want to win the competition. We will give our best and hope to have the little luck we need, especially with injuries. Lokomotiv and Valencia have great teams, but also UNICS and Unicaja. ASVEL has a great coach and a good team, just like Monaco. Of course, Crvena Zvezda, my former team, will be one of the favorites, too."