Doing Your Best and More
She grew up in a famous coach family, lived in many countries. She was attracted by acting, photography, languages. People noticed how deep she was in basketball only after she took her Belgrade team to the First League. Later she climbed to the European throne with the Serbian women’s national team. She knows how to renew her own inner balance and invokes the best in people. She is happy to know her country and because people understand the basis of the feat of the team she is leading. She lives the spirit of kafanas and old songs. Honor is a nice term among Serbs, which describes them clearly

By: Dejan Bulajić
Photo: Guest’s archive

She was permeated with the impressions about the world as an elixir ever since she was little, feeling that in the multitude of challenges stands the one tailored exactly to her needs. She anticipated, although she never talked about it, that she must be ready when her moment comes. She knew that she would recognize it and not allow it to pass her by.

– Considering that I lived in many countries and that we often changed our place of residence, I was full of impressions about different things. It seemed to me that everything is at the reach of the hand, so my interests kept changing: I was attracted by acting, photography, languages were always challenging. Besides all that, I was always into basketball, but I couldn’t even assume that it would become my direction in life. Some things simply happen beyond our expectations. If one said that it was logical that someone in the family would become infected with basketball, everyone would first think of my brother. However, he took a different path, while something happened to me and permanently related me to this sport.
Children who grow up in sports families sometimes feel tired because of the intensity of living. This, however, was not the case with Marina.
– It would be an easier way, but it’s not me. Looking from the side, life in such families seems easy and careless. I admit that my parents did everything so that my brother and I would have such a feeling, but, at the same time, there were reflexes burdening me. Each time we would move, I would feel strongly nostalgic for Belgrade. Perhaps my parents felt it, so they often brought us here and persistently insisted that we keep in touch with close friends, our culture and language. I am grateful for it today. The rhythm of frequent moving house and from places you have just got used to is strenuous, but it finally determines some features of your character features and makes you get accustomed to changes as something inevitable in life.
Entering the area of professional coaching determined a direction which quickly led to success, with triumphs coming one after another.
– It really is an unusual story. I almost didn’t know what defeat looks like. From the moment I set the objective to enter the First League with six girls in ”Ušće”, to ”Hemofarm” and ”Partizan”, victories and titles came one after another. Even the objectives of the national team were multiply surpassed at the very beginning, because our plan was to become one of the best teams only in a few years. It sometimes scares me, but also motivates me to achieve even more. I consciously took that path and I am happy for every challenge awaiting me.


The strength of her character was best expressed in collective sports, always burdened by the specific features of those participating in it.
– The first objective you set before you is to win something and then to repeat the same success. It is a kind of mystery of longevity. Basketball sets strict conditions, which are not always related to sport. I have a group of twelve girls and the same number of different characters. My task is to recognize them, to take out the best from them and make them believe in what I request from them. Whether my team will resemble my wishes and ideas is up to me. That makes the gold we won at the European Championship even more precious, because we showed that we can do it, with the strength of our spirit, will and talent. We now have a new objective – to repeat our success and perhaps even make a step further, because challenges will not be the same, just like we are not the same anymore. It is up to me to strengthen those girls, enriched with a wonderful experience, into a fighting unit, ready to go from the beginning and fight till the end with the same vigor.
Coaches know well how requesting working in a sports team is.
– It is so intensive that you simply have to try to rest along the way. My principle of working is such that sometimes even colleagues from male basketball are astonished by the intensity of my trainings. I consider it normal, but I also understand my need, as well as the need of my players, to take a break. Wherever I work, I find myself time and a place to rest, which is something I advise them to do as well. Without that, the exhaustion would be unbearable. I cannot imagine my working week without at least one day break. If I’m in Serbia, it is often a trip out of Belgrade, going into nature, to recharges my batteries. You simply have to find a retreat, perhaps even be alone, to keep yourself in balance. Without that, you cannot last long.
Working with girls is very specific and creates an additional burden.
– Luckily, I can speak about it according to my clear personal experience, since I also worked with seniors in ”Ušće”. For me it was incomparably easier than working with women. They are simply more requesting, with specificities about which I could talk for days. Sometimes I joke, but it is actually very serious, and say that I will rest when I move to male basketball.
We can expect it in the future.
– I have no problem with that. My only task is to kick out Sonja, Jelena, Ana and other players from my head and transfer to the male story. That’s all. I consider myself a professional able to cope with such a challenge and it’s only a matter of time when it will happen.


Someone might assume that father Božidar, famous basketball coach, was seriously involved in Marina’s career. However, surprisingly, it is not so.
– In the true sense of the word, he discovered how deep I was in basketball only when I entered First League with ”Ušće”. He was surprised and not very thrilled with my decision to become a coach too. He, of course, didn’t agree, wanting mainly to protect me from all negative impulses of this job. However, with only one unwavering sentence, I made clear how determined I was to stay in it. The profile of my character is such that it doesn’t allow external influences, while his character is such that he can recognize and respect the reality of others’ decisions, so there were no further misunderstandings. The first and last time he was at one of my games was in 2007, when we won the Cup in Subotica, my first trophy. However, I know that he suffers during all my matches. For the finals, when we won European gold, he smoked so many cigarettes, although he’s not a smoker, and trembled from anxiety so much, that even his old friends couldn’t recognize him. At the end he started crying, because he knows how I felt better than anyone. That’s my father, Božidar.
However, there is no sleeping on laurels.
– When we won European gold, I asked myself: what now? How to give something new to Serbian basketball? The answer was in the decision to start from the beginning, from the very basics, so I established the Movement for Women’s Basketball with my friends, with the main aim to give girls an opportunity to train basketball for free, to gain first experiences and perhaps discover their talent. Through all this, they will also gain healthy living habits, which is perhaps most important. All this is already functioning well in Belgrade, and now it will begin spreading throughout Serbia. I am proud to be part of something like that, because I am amazed with the intelligence of our children, their agility and readiness to adjust in difficult situations. I spent a large part of my life abroad and, believe me, I didn’t often come upon similar examples in the world. I am happy to know my country and feel its needs. I try to give it my sincere feelings and my most daring wishes.
How much is that appreciated?
– The fact that many people understand the essence of our success means a lot to me. We won European gold not only because we were good, but mainly because of a big heart and our willingness to leave the last drop of our strength on the court. It’s not only a question of sports motivation, but also of human ethics. You either have it or not. The wish to sacrifice yourself for something and someone, without sparing yourself. I wish many people would look up to our female basketball players, because it is a fact that numerous people among us are not doing enough neither for themselves, nor for their country. Without that, you cannot achieve what you are expecting, let alone think about any higher achievements.


Marina is also curious about life outside of sports, but doesn’t have enough time for all her wishes.
– I was captured by theater in my school days and I enjoy watching plays, but, unfortunately, my obligations are preventing me from doing it more often. The love for scene arts exists in my family, because my brother is in the movie industry, while I’m enchanted by theater. I have to say I’m sorry we don’t show more appreciation for our actors. They are our real treasure and I know how much they are respected in the world. We, unfortunately, remember them only when they leave us, which often happened recently, so I wish they would finally get the place they deserve. Poetry is something I also enjoy. Its emotions, harmony and sincerity it expresses. I like to discover it in the world that surrounds me, whatever it’s like.
Kafana table, the sound of strained cords and a bit of bohemian spirit in the soul…
– It makes me happy. I love kafanas and the spirit that can only be found in them, even in old, poor inns. Sometimes I wish to challenge the musicians with songs that cannot be heard anymore, I could even compete with them with the number of songs I know. Sometimes people ask me whether kafana songs can describe me. Even if they can, it’s not one, two or three songs, but much more. It is a reflection of my being, the wish to surrender to the emotions kafanas invoke and enjoy it, sincerely and uninhibited. Of course, when I have time for such things.
While we are discovering her, it becomes clear that Marina, besides all her opponents, will always remain the greatest challenge to herself.
– People in France cannot believe the degree of my dedication to work. I tried to explain them that I don’t need a controller, monitoring the amount of my work, because there are other criteria that mean more to me. The attitude about the seriousness and responsibility of what I am doing is deeply rooted in me. When I’m aware that I have given my best, I’m calm and relaxed. This is what I ask from my players: to give their best and try a step further, and then, even if we don’t succeed, I will congratulate them. Being honorable in your work means giving honor to your life. Honor is a nice term among us Serbs and very clearly describes who we are and the way we are.
The Olympic Games are ahead of us.
– Many people are unrealistic in their expectations, after the successes we have achieved up to now. It is a feature of our character and we will try to fight it. You know, my girls are like children going to Rio with experienced champions. Thanks God, we have them on our side, starting with a fantastic tennis player, who is a role model to all of us, brilliant shooters, athletes, water polo players and many others. My task is to return the team to the level we have been at the beginning. To give our best without burdens, but also without complexes. I know that we won’t be embarrassed, because we have a big heart, but I don’t even want to start the story about medals and similar things, because it can easily become frivolous.
Those who condemn themselves to walking towards the heights, have difficult steps and strained breath in their chest ahead. But…
– Isn’t that the meaning and point of life? Isn’t that the purpose of our existence? Finally… isn’t that love?


My Country
– Needless to say how close I am to my country. I am fully aware that I can do something good for it through my work and be assured that there is no obstacle that could keep me from giving my best on that way. The feeling that I have succeeded in it is inexpressible. I have already experienced the famous balcony, which only the best have climbed, experienced seven thousand people in ”Pionir” at a women’s basketball game, which was almost unthinkable until recently. Thousands of our people came to support and greet us at the finals in Budapest. That is a huge satisfaction and fulfillment of the deepest wishes in the life of a sportsman or coach!


Lika in My Heart
– It is an integral part of the story of my life. It lives within me as the homeland of my family, and there is no mystery in it, because I was raised to love and respect what is mine. I spent a big part of my childhood in Lika. I love those people, I like to have them beside me, to see them at different meetings we organize. That will last for a long time.


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