With two gold medals in basketball World Championship play, Serbian Vladimir Radmanovic is beginning to showcase his talents in the National Basketball Association with the Seattle SuperSonics. His hard work in the off-season has helped Seattle's chances in the NBA as well as Serbia-Montenegro for this year's Athens Olympics.

At a young age Vladimir Radmanovic knew that basketball was going to be his life. Growing up in Yugoslavia, he found that many of his friends shared his passion for the game. After hard work and an adolescent growth spurt, Radmanovic made the 1996-1997 Yugoslav Junior Team. He then earned a spot on the Yugoslav Under-22 national team in 1998, winning a gold medal at the European Championships.

His skills attracted attention from the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics. Seattle selected Radmanovic with the 12th pick in the 2001 NBA draft and he joined the world's top professional basketball league at the age of 20.

The 2,08 m forward continued to improve with hard work and it paid more dividends at the 2002 World Basketball Championships in Indianapolis where Yugoslavia won the gold medal. The host U.S. team of NBA players finished sixth, its worst finish ever in international play. Radmanovic was at the top of his game.

Vladimir Radmanovic says the pressures of being a young man in a foreign land has not affected him. He told VOA Sports he's found it easy adjusting to life in the United States, especially with the help of former Seattle teammate and fellow-Serbian Peja Drobnjak.

"It was a great thing for me to have Peja for the first two years here on the Sonics, just to have somebody," he said. "It was the first time for me out of home and away from my country. Time with Peja was a great thing. You could have somebody you could talk to."

Joining a wave of youthful European players coming to the NBA, Radmanovic is beginning to stand out from the pack. Drobnjak is now a member of the Los Angeles Clippers and Radmanovic is settling down into his roll as a starter in the SuperSonics' system.

Radmanovic has found the only real difference in the NBA from his time with former Belgrade clubs FMP Zeleznik and Red Star is the number of games played. Getting stronger in order to deal with the rigors of an 82-game schedule has been a priority. In doing so, he has also worked on becoming more versatile both under the basket and from the outside.

Vladimir Radmanovic worked on all his skills this past off-season, playing with Seattle in the NBA's summer league. Even after improvement through his first two seasons in the NBA, Radmanovic believes it is necessary to continually work to improve.

"This [past] summer I just played summer league because I wasn't satisfied with the previous season, and I just wanted to be better," he said. "The only way to be better is to play games and work on your game and that's what I did."

His determination to succeed has boosted his average to 13 points, six rebounds, and one steal per game with Seattle. Now Radmanovic hopes his role with the SuperSonics will help his role at the Olympics where Serbia-Montenegro will be considered one of the favorites. But even the former Yugoslavia's recent success does not convince Radmanovic that they will be the team to beat.

"I wouldn't say we are favorites," he said. "The [USA's] Dream Team [of NBA stars] is going to be the team everyone is going to look at, and they've proved that in the past. We're world champions, but we know how much we can do and how much other guys can do. It's not only the U.S. team and Serbian team. There's going to be a lot of other teams like Argentina and teams from Europe that played well last year at the European Championships. Everybody is going to come motivated and wanting to take the Olympic games."

Team USA will consist of the top American talent from the NBA. But now with many European players in the league, Serbia-Montenegro also boasts a roster with numerous players from the NBA.

Besides Radmanovic, they are Peja Stojakovic of the Sacramento Kings, Peja Drobnjak and Marko Jaric of the Los Angeles Clippers, Zarko Cabarkapa of the Phoenix Suns, and Darko Milicic and Zeljko Rebraca of the Detroit Pistons.

The U.S. team is coming off a poor showing at the 2002 World Championships where Yugoslavia edged out Argentina in the gold medal game. But it might be premature to assume that the U.S. team will rebound and easily defend its crown at the Olympics. Radmanovic feels that Serbia-Montenegro has a good chance to pull the upset.

"I'm going to say we're walking out with the gold medal because that's the kind of mentality you need to have to get it," said Vladimir Radmanovic. "If you're going to say the U.S. team's going to take it, then why are you going over there."

With a strong work ethic and youth on his side, Radmanovic has a bright future. But regardless of Seattle's performance in the NBA this season, there is always Athens to look forward to. It is there that Vladimir Radmanovic gets to see if his hard work and dedication bring home Olympic gold.