Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic is set to lead the Slovenian national team in the Eurobasket 2022. Will he be able to rely on his friend Goran Dragic? The question remains to be answered.

Talking about the experience managing the basketball wunderkind, the team's head coach Aleksander Sekulic was certain - he brought the country's basketball to a whole another level.

"The key feedback that I get from him is exceptional. He is respectful. A bit too formal at times. But this is Luka," the coach said in an interview with SportKlub Slovenija. "I can say that I never once got the feeling that playing for the national team was unnecessary for him. On the contrary, his attitude is extraordinary."

"When a player of his caliber perceives Slovenia in such a way, it is much easier to build a national team cult. In the past, we often had problems with this in our country. There were basketball players looking for excuses to take summers off. Now the picture is different," Sekulic remembered.

Slovenia can be proud of having one of the best basketball schools in Europe, at least in the last several decades. Although the country was able to cite notable European and NBA names in the likes of Sani Becirovic, Radoslav Nesterovic, Matjaz Smodis, Bostjan Nachbar, Primoz Brezec, Erazem Lorbek, Sasha Vujacic, and Jaka Lakovic, all of them in roughly the same generation, the best Slovenia managed to achieve was 4th place in the 2009 EuroBasket in Poland.

The landscape has changed now, Sekulic says.

"Basketball players are looking for reasons to be part of the national team. It was Luka who contributed a lot to this kind of attitude. At the same time, however, new challenges arise," the coach told.

"How to create an environment that will make Luka want to come to the national team? If the atmosphere in Slovenia was excessively similar to the one he enjoys in America, we would not be doing him a great favor," Sekulic explained. "He likes Slovenia and the national team, but I believe that he also comes back because of the atmosphere."

The biggest question in Slovenian basketball now is whether or not Goran Dragic will be able to help Luka the same way he did during the FIBA 2023 World Cup Qualifiers a month ago.

"The wish is for an even better Slovenia. I believe this is realistic," Sekulic hoped. "If Goran Dragic is also with us, these ideas will have an even firmer foundation. I have a very good feeling about him now."

"He is the vocal leader. Also, a leader who leads by example. He always trains at full strength," the coach noted. "The others simply have to follow him. In the match, experience comes to the forefront. And, of course, the quality of his play. These are things that cannot be bought or created."

With Dragic in the squad, basketball fans expect the team to reach the heights of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where the team placed 4th. Slovenia lost in the semifinals against France in a match that had it all but ultimately was decided by a Nicolas Batum block at the very last second.

"Whenever anyone, in any context, mentions France, I think of the semifinals of the Olympic Games. Yes, that match gives me no peace," Sekulic told. "To this day, I feel most sorry for the boys in the whole story. With the fight, sacrifice, and actually the basketball that they showed throughout the summer, they deserved to appear in the grand final."

"However, I am still convinced today that we played it well," the coach concluded. "I wouldn't change a thing. I don't regret any decision either."

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