Credit: BNS
Credit BNS

Few hours before the Eurobasket 2017 final tips off. Smoking area of Sinan Erden arena in Istanbul. Sasa Doncic, the father of Luka Doncic, couldn’t stand still. Slovenia was facing Serbia in a gold medal game. His 18-year-old son was one victory away from becoming the European champion.

"Look at my shirt," Sasa Doncic smiled, wet and still sweating. And it wasn't just because of a sweltering September day in Istanbul.

Sasa was about to finish his second pack of cigarettes that day. Actually, at that particular moment, he was going for the second cigarette in five minutes. He was about to step in front of the cameras as the Slovenian television 24UR was getting ready to preview the gold medal game between Slovenia and Serbia.

"It's been a long day," Sasa added. "I can't understand what's going on in my head right now. But soon, it will be a historical moment because we will win the final. I have no doubt. We will win the EuroBasket 100%."

Midway through the third quarter Luka Doncic left the court due to an injury and never came back. Goran Dragic, a team leader, couldn't play through the pain anymore and went to the sidelines with few minutes to play. But Klemen Prepelic and Anthony Randolph hit some clutch shots, and the euphoria started.

"Never before and never after that, to be honest," Sasa smiles, asked if he had ever been so nervous after that day.

Credit SIPA - Scanpix

Four years later, he's following his son Luka and Slovenia National Team again. This time he's in Kaunas, Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Again, 47-year-old head coach and TV analyst is on the sidelines of Zalgirio Arena with Sanja Modric, the famous Slovenian sports journalist. All Slovenia fell in love with this duo back in 2017.

"Sasa was making jokes, and he was not regular. And people really liked it," Sanja recalls.

Points this season

54%
109,3
Points made: 109,3
Accuracy: 53,8%
Place in standings: 1
Record max: 118
Record min: 98
Best scorer: Luka Doncic

"When you have results... Everything looks nice," Sasa adds.

He expects nothing else but the win from his team again.

BasketNews put Sasa Doncic on a mic before the second OQT game of Slovenia. Former basketball player shared his thoughts of Luka's development and leadership, the beauty of Slovenia basketball, and his daily routine with the Dallas Mavericks games on TV early in the morning and his team's, Ilirija Ljubljana, practice later that day.

Also, Sasa shared some predictions, which most certainly some people might not like at all...

- What are your predictions this time, before the Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas?
- To be honest, you won't like my answer, but Slovenia... 51% for Slovenia and 49% for Lithuania.

- Why?
- Because I'm from Slovenia, that's why (laughs). I'm a fan of the Slovenia National Team. I believe they will do this job and qualify for the Olympics for the first time.

- What do you like the most about your team's game?
- I know that we played against Angola... But Slovenia's attitude, the way they started the game, was serious. They didn't underestimate Angola. They started hard and were really professional. I saw these faces. They were focused. They knew what they're doing. Today to beat somebody by 50 points, no matter who is not easy.

- Especially in the first game of the tournament.
- Yes. Everybody was nervous, didn't know what will happen. But they did a perfect job. And there was the first game for a new team. Realistically, a real game will be on Sunday against Lithuania. 

- Besides the fact that you're Slovenian, why do you consider them a better team than Lithuania?
- By the names, Lithuania is much better. Your players play in the Euroleague, the NBA... In our team, we have two NBA players, only Prepelic and Tobey, who play in the Euroleague. Everybody else plays in the EuroCup or domestic championship. By the names, Lithuania is much better.

- But it seems like your team clicked together much faster?
- I give these two percents for Slovenia because of the team we are right now. I saw Lithuania against Venezuela. Of course, it's not the same, but... I hope that we will win. 

- Have you ever been so nervous after the Eurobasket 2017 final?
- Never before and never after that, to be honest. Because it was a really special match. That EuroBasket... Everything started in Helsinki when the nervousness was growing up every day. Istanbul... I can't describe it in words. It was like a fairytale.

- You've reached the peak, but with the new FIBA calendar, you couldn't bring the best players for World Cup qualifiers, and two years later, we didn't see your team in China...
- Yes, but for four years we're European champions (laughs). Okay, but this is a really big problem. FIBA and Euroleague need to do something because this is the worst for basketball fans. What they're doing, fighting each other... This is the worst for basketball.

We had to play in the qualifiers without our best players because they were in the Euroleague or the NBA... Slovenia doesn't have one hundred good players. If only one is missing, this is already a big loss for Slovenia. In Lithuania, you have a lot of good players. But we don't. With one or two missing, this is totally a different team.

- Four years ago, Luka Doncic was a different player. When you compare him now and then, what main differences you, as a father, see first?
- He grew up. He's four years older, and he's a man. Before, he still was a kid. In EuroBasket, he was just a talent. Nobody knew how he will play. He really grew up and became a good player. He made himself a good player. 

Now I see him as a leader of this team. He's not a kid anymore. He grew up.

- Back then, he was helping the team next to Goran Dragic and Anthony Randolph. Right now, he's the main guy of Slovenia NT. What do you like the most about his leadership?
- What I saw in the first game, for him, it's most important to make his players better. He will assist. If nobody can make a field goal, then he'll take the ball. But I see the same outside the court. They're always together, just like friends, going out together. People around him feel good in his company. And that's good leadership.

- Interestingly, in the United States, everybody is questioning Luka's leadership with the Dallas Mavericks. For example, famous ESPN journalist Brian Windhorst mentioned that he's not sure how many people would be excited to play with Luka. He described him as a 'maybe difficult person.' How do you feel about these comments as a dad and as a person who knows Luka very well?
- I don't know. Maybe this journalist is probably the biggest basketball genius. So please don't ask me about it (laughs). 

I'm telling you, what he is doing in the NBA is more than great. I'm talking as a basketball fan. As a father, I'm very proud of him. He's not afraid of anybody. He has this heart and guts to compare with everybody. What he's doing at 22 years old in the NBA, as a European player, I think, nobody does this.

Actually, I didn't hear it (remarks about Luka's leadership in Dallas), so I don't know how to comment on it.

- You're also the head coach of Ilirija Ljubljana. What's your schedule? The Dallas Mavericks game in the morning, a cup of coffee, and morning practice of Ilirija?
- Yes, yes. Honestly, when you change day and night, it's a disaster (smiles). But if you have wisdom, it's not difficult. If you have a will, you'll do everything.

For me, it wasn't a problem. And we did a good job with Ilirija. It's a small team in Ljubljana. Goran and Zoran Dragic started here. We were promoted to the first division. Probably, the next season we'll have more obligations. But we'll do everything that we can.

Last season we started a cooperation with Cedevita Olimpija because we have a lot of young players. Cedevita Olimpija needs to reach the results and doesn't have time to develop these young players. That's why they gave us 2-3 players. In our team, we don't have a problem with results. We're a team that is giving a chance for young players.

- What do you like more, talking on TV or coaching?
- Talking on TV is easier than coaching! When you're coaching, you're 24 hours with your team. You're thinking, what you will do tomorrow. Why one guy did this and that. It's for 24 hours. Talking on TV is like relaxing. This is satisfying. I love basketball, and I'm very happy that I can follow the National Team. We're close, we're friends, and it's an honor for me that I could be a little part of it.

- Watching Luka games early in the morning, what do you think of his last NBA season?
- I think that Luka is going forward every year. For me, this is the most important. I also think that what they did this season, they can be satisfied. But okay, probably they want more and more. But this is their politics. I don't really want to talk about it.

- So, probably you're not going to comment on the Mavericks coaching change and what Jason Kidd will bring to Luka Doncic?
- No, no. Never. This is the politics of the club. They're together for 24 hours, and they know the reasons for this and that. I don't want to talk about it.

Credit BNS

- When we watch Luka, we witness something close to the perfect game. But what else he has to improve in order to elevate his game?
- I think he can improve his shot. He can be better with everything—both in offense and defense. We're watching numbers. They have great numbers. But I think that he can still do it, especially on his speed, physicality.

But on the other side, when he wants to play one-on-one, nobody can stop him. So let's leave this to the coach of the Dallas Mavericks. Everybody can get better. Nobody should be satisfied. The best thing that Luka always wants more.

- Are you satisfied with the way coach Aleksander Sekulic is building the team around Luka and trying to maximize both his and the rest of the team's potential?
- I know Sekulic very well. We also have good players who know each other. Most of them already played together. To be honest, it's very simple. Luka is the leader here, and everybody follows him.

I like that these players are aware of what they have. There is no jealousy. They're like a real family. I think Sekulic did a great job. Talking with each other and creating that chemistry. That's good that he doesn't want to be higher than they are. Many coaches want to be on the top. Sekulic was a great assistant, he learned a lot, and he's doing a great job.

- Hypothetical situation. Your team, Ilirija, was promoted to the first division. In a dream scenario, one day, you're winning the Slovenian Championship. And in a hypothetical scenario, you're appointed the head coach of the Slovenia National Team. What kind of coach would you be for your player Luka Doncic?
- Maybe, who knows! (laughs). But I don't know... But to be honest, I don't think this combination between son and father on the same team is a good idea. We have some history, but anyway...

Good question, but I don't know what to say (smiles). If someday it will happen, we'll see. But of course, everything would be totally professional.

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Anonymous
Lithuania lets go !!!
2021-07-04
+5
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nice
very nice
2021-07-04
+14
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Anonymous
Good interview
2021-07-04
+1
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Anonymous
nice interview
2021-07-04
+12
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Really enjoyed it!
2021-07-04
+17
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kkekksi
thanks for the interview, enjoyed reading))
2021-07-04
+3
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Luka Doncic

Luka  Doncic
Luka  Doncic
MIN: 22.72
PTS: 18 (56.86%)
REB: 7
As: 10.67
ST: 2
BL: 0
TO: 2.33
GM: 3