Dario Saric talks to BasketNews about coming back from a serious injury, EuroBasket with Croatia, his new role with the Suns, and Bojan Bogdanovic's potential trade to Phoenix.

Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

For Dario Saric, the way back to competitive basketball has been a long one. It's a non-stop process that still takes up a considerable amount of his time, even after his practices and shootaround routines with the Croatian national team are over. 

However, this EuroBasket gives Saric the chance to remind everyone of the player he had been until adversity hit him hard on July 6, 2021, in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. His Phoenix Suns team was facing the eventual champs Milwaukee Bucks, but Saric wasn't able to provide any help nor try to change his team's fate.

Having suffered a torn ACL, he sat out for the entirety of the 2021-22 season after ultimately undergoing meniscus surgery in May. Thirteen months have gone by, and now Saric is back with his native country in EuroBasket, whose first stage is hosted in Milan.

"I'd say it's a lot of ups and downs. In one game, you feel and play good, while sometimes, you're feeling bad. It's hard to get into form and perform the way you're supposed to - and do that consistently," Saric tells BasketNews after another practice session had ended with him performing some stretching exercises. 

"But it's a long tournament, a marathon. I hope I can get into shape as soon as possible. I need to focus on my knee after not playing for one year. I need to work a lot, but I feel better," he contends. 

Against Slovenia and Luka Doncic on August 20, Saric scored 18 points on 7/12 shooting in 26 minutes. Five days later, he put up nine points, as many rebounds, and six assists in 28 minutes to lead Croatia to a 72-69 victory against Poland.

The first opponent for Croatia and Saric in EuroBasket was Giannis Antetokounmpo's Greece. The premiere went south for the Suns player and his team, as the Greeks prevailed by 89-85, and Saric went scoreless on 0/6 from the field in 20 minutes of action.

"We had a tough game against Greece," Saric continues. "We could have won, but in some situations, we didn't make the best decision. Had I played better, we might have had more chances to win the game," he admits.

However, the easy win over Great Britain (86-65) provided him with the opportunity to find his spots. The 28-year-old big man had 15 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. In those few early glimpses, Saric has looked healthy ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.

"Against Great Britain, we knew the game would be tough since it took place early. It's always tough for all teams to play at 14:00. But we played well, especially in the third quarter. We need to relax and focus on our next game against Estonia," the 2016 Olympic Qualifying Tournament MVP says. 

What can go down as a success for Croatia in this tournament? That's where Saric seems to be unsure. 

"Ah, it's a hard question. It's not easy to answer," he quibbles. "I think it's best to analyze the situation after everything is over. Now, we just need to focus on our next game. That's the way any team should deal with this tournament."

After spending most of his career playing as a power forward, last year Suns coach Monty Williams utilized him more as a center. Saric defines himself as "a smart player, capable of adjusting to every position and every situation."

Standing at 2.08 m., he has the chance to serve as a point-forward, demonstrating his ball-handling, passing, and 3-point shooting ability.

"Wherever the coach puts me on the court, I can play. Being the team's center was new for me, but I could play as stretch five, having the ball in my hands and the freedom to make decisions," he argues. 

Before getting injured, Saric had been averaging NBA career-lows 8.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in less than 18 minutes. Instead of being a starter, or even the Suns 6th man, he had to console himself with four starts in fifty games during the 2020-21 season.

That's why a new role was necessary for him to be allocated more playing time. Saric says he has come to terms with it.

"I like it. If that's the way I can spend more time on the court, I'll take it. I'm sure I will find a way to give something to the team and myself as well. So, I didn't have any problem with that."

Being an NBA veteran before even turning 30, Saric has grown accustomed to playing overseas. What he hasn't managed to do is realize the passage of time. In 2016, he left Anadolu Efes Istanbul to make the leap to Philadelphia. 

"I've been there for six years already. I've figured out how to be myself and play as well as I can. Now, I have the experience. Time has flown fast," he reflects. 

Walking down memory lane, Saric remembers the good and the bad times in Istanbul. A few years before Efes turned into the EuroLeague powerhouse, European fans have come to enjoy over the last three seasons. The Croatian big man has been following his ex-team in their EuroLeague title runs.

"I'm happy for those guys there; for the team, the front office, the physiotherapists, the team doctors, who're still the same. They're working hard, and they deserve all the credit. We had a good team when I was there, but we didn't show it on the court," he ponders.

A recent report by Jazz Insider Tony Jones revealed that the Utah Jazz are engaged in trade conversations with the Suns regarding veteran players such as Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, and Bojan Bogdanovic.

This means Saric could play alongside his Croatia NT teammate on the other side of the Atlantic too. 

"I don't know; that's just a rumor for now," Saric shrugs off the issue.

"It's hard to comment. You know how things work in the NBA. Everything can change in one second. One day you're with one team, and the next, you're with another. That kind of stuff is for the front offices to decide," he concludes. 

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