Credit: Reuters – Scanpix
Credit Reuters – Scanpix

Rodions Kurucs was one of Partizan NIS Belgrade's marquee signings. The Latvian forward joined Alen Smailagic as the second European and former NBA player signed by the Serbian powerhouse that aims to win a EuroLeague spot through the EuroCup.

Smailagic and Kurucs moved overseas at the same time (in 2018), only to return at Zeljko Obradovic's request.

"Partizan is definitely a great team with a great coach. I'm learning a lot. It's obviously different basketball than in the NBA. We will try to fix our mistakes as quickly as possible," Kurucs told BasketNews one month ago.

3-pointers this season

Points made: 14,0
Accuracy: 46,7%
Place in standings: 1
Record max: 14
Record min: 14
Most made 3FGs: Dallas Moore

Now that Kurucs is back in Europe, the feeling is different. "I feel good. I have much more playing time. Since basketball here is different, I have the chance to adjust a little bit more.

Coach Obradovic also told me that I'm in the process of adjusting and that I should be reading the game differently than I used to. He's going to help me understand the game a little bit more. I had a lot of turnovers in some preseason games. I need some more time, and I'll be good," the 23-year-old underlines.

Former EuroLeague stars Kevin Punter and Zach LeDay moved to Belgrade, giving up on Europe's biggest basketball stage. Expectations in the Serbian capital are sky-high, but that isn't much of a problem for Kurucs.

"It's always been like that. All eyes are on us. We want to get far because our goals are high," he points out.

Kurucs spent three seasons (2015-2018) with FC Barcelona. The Latvian international will never forget that he was promised more playing time before the start of his last season in Spain.

However, that never happened. The Catalan giants shifted from Sito Alonso to Svetislav Pesic in the middle of the 2017-18 campaign, and the Latvian forward never became an integral part of the squad.

"Maybe it had to do with the coaching change. I don't want to look back at it," he commented.

Nevertheless, his time in Barcelona prepared him for what was going to happen next, albeit in a peculiar way.

"It prepared me mentally; to always be ready because I was always on the bench. I learned to prepare my body for everything that happens," he acknowledges.

Ironically and unexpectedly, while in Brooklyn, he made up for a lost time, becoming a starter and the lowest drafted player (40th overall) in his class to be chosen as one of the league’s Rising Stars during the 2019 All-Star Weekend held in Charlotte. The former VEF Riga player quickly managed to stand out among his international counterparts.

Rodions Kurucs

Rodions  Kurucs
Team: Partizan Belgrade
Position: SF, PF
Age: 23
Height: 206 cm
Weight: 93 kg
Birth place: Latvia

He finished his rookie year with 8.5 points and 3.9 rebounds, which turned out to be his career-best numbers in the NBA. His playing time gradually declined, his appearances became few and far between, and his input was thus minimized.

Houston, where he was traded, was obviously not for him. Milwaukee could have provided a silver lining, but even there, he dressed for five regular-season games.

"I had a good first season in the NBA. The second one was OK, and then they traded me to Houston, where I didn't play a lot - for whatever reason.

I was traded to Milwaukee. Their team was already settled for a championship. I was there for a short time, and they decided to cut me. It's the business part of basketball. You can't do anything about it," he admits.

Whether he gets a championship ring remains unclear. "I don't know about that yet. I'll have to ask my agent. It would probably be good to get one. I didn't do much on that team, but I hope I get it.

It's a big thing for me. I was part of the team and did my job there. I feel good about it."

In any case, he felt ready for the NBA before moving overseas.

"In my mind, I thought I would be playing in the G League for maybe two years and then try to make an NBA roster. But luck was on my side, and I had a good situation," Kurucs explains.

When asked where he had the most fun in the NBA, Kurucs issued an instant response.

"In Brooklyn, for sure. My first year was the most fun. We had a good squad, and everyone was playing together. With the Bucks, it was kind of the same when I was there. So, I had some fun with them too."

Playing for Partizan, even if it's in the EuroCup or the ABA League, will definitely provide a good showcase for all the players currently on the Serbian giants' roster. In this vein, an NBA comeback could be on the cards for Kurucs.

"I can't answer that right now. We'll see. Of course, I'm going to do my best and work hard," he utters.

Talking about the NBA, the conversation turned to Yam Madar, the Israeli prospect who was a second-round draft pick (No. 47) in 2020 and is currently in charge of the point guard position at Partizan despite being only 20.

"He's a great guy," Kurucs says. "I wouldn't say that he reminds me of myself because he's a point guard. But he's young, he learns a lot. The future is definitely bright for him if he works hard and understands the game."

The Latvian forward got drafted and went to the NBA without further ado. Madar is a draft-and-stash project for the Boston Celtics who let him play for Hapoel Tel Aviv last year and then pen a three-year deal with Partizan.

Kurucs reveals that the two didn't talk about playing in the NBA, but "we did talk about the Summer League a little bit and how he felt there. He told me that he liked it and he was happy about the Boston organization. It was good for him. Boston is a great organization for European players."

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