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 other.
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 of luck."
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 fistfight 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 before."
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 Olympics.
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.