Last weekend we found our way to Zadar, Croatia to attend prestigious and arguably the best pre season basketball tournament in Europe. Kresimir Cosic Hall gathered five Euroleague powerhouses: Maccabi Tel Aviv, Olimpia Milano, Fenerbahce, Bayern Munich and CSKA Moscow. The participants were additionally fulfilled by Chinese champion Liaoning. Since regular competition didn’t start yet it was a special opportunity and evaluation setting on some of the notable prospects like: Yovel Zoosman but before everything else youngsters such as: Tarik Biberovic and Deni Avdija vs the best non NBA club competition.
This piece is dedicated to Israeli rising star. We had a chance to watch his game vs Asian team which featured veteran Brandon Bass in the roster but lacked the best domestic guys and clearly couldn’t catch up to the rest level wise. 2001 born swingman came off the bench in the 2nd and then 3rd quarter. He looked confident, was opportunistic with speeding up the game which brings hope that his transition prowess is easily translatable skill for the next level. He was engaged defensively, deflected some passes and impressed with quick decision making after catching the ball. On the other hand despite not forcing anything, he seemed a bit too unselfish at times. As the game was won by big margin, such setting is always great opportunity to present more self produced offense given that point deficit favors confidence level and decreases the possible consequences. Anyway we and NBA scouts that were present in the gym will have plenty of opportunities to watch Deni again moving forward so let’s move on to our long sit down interview which we had before the game.
You had pretty busy summer on the road. Did you manage to recover physically and mentally?
It wasn’t easy doing two championships especially after winning gold medal in U20 and then being forced to quickly get down to the ground and be focused at U18 stage. That took a lot for me but I am having fun. My body is strong and healthy. I manage to do all this stuff and I don’t feel any pain or exhaustment.
Currently you are going through preseason process with Maccabi. How is it going so far?
Preseason is going good. I am enjoying meeting the players and creating bond with them. It’s different basketball than juniors but I am getting used to it. Moreover I am not new to the organisation. There are people who really love and appreciate me but basically all the guys are cool, I love them and can learn a lot from. They were on the higher level before so I am trying to listen what they say.
It’s been a while since you practise together so may now have a feel how close you are to them skillwise. Do you think you will be given minutes consistently upcoming season?
Well I am just practising 100%. I think I am doing great job of making the progress and probably I am expecting minutes but whatever coach decides I respect that. He knows a lot and coached NBA before so I am not worried. I am eager to play but at the same time I believe he will call my name in due time.
Now let’s go back to the summer. Did you expect that you may end up in All-Tournament Team at FIBA U20 European Championships vs three year older players?
First of all when it was announced that I am in this team I started to think how it’s gonna be and those kind of things. Then I got into the practise, I saw how the guys were treating me, how they respected me as a player and how the coach was giving me confidence to do things. It all went from there. I had perfect circumstances so I did my job and sacrificed a lot for the team. I am glad it eventually turned out as a big individual and team achievement.
However shortly after this you fell short to follow this on lower stage in Skopje. Why you couldn’t repeat the triumph?
I can say it’s not only on us but also because of competition format. I mean we were the best team out there as far as number of wins and just had really bad day in one game of group stage which decided about everything. We even beat the champion, we had some great moments and finished 7-1. If we played this again I think we would win the promotion, maybe whole competition. I don’t think it was bad championship for us. We did everything we could.
Since you are double citizenship you could very well end up playing for Serbia. Did you consider that at all in the past?
I thought about it but you know my friends are here and I feel comfortable with the language. I am having fun, I was the main guy and leader of the youth national teams for a while now here. It really helped me on my road so after winning gold medal I think it was good choice and it can’t be changed now awyways.
You have other passport thanks to your father who used to be high level basketball player. How did he influence your career?
Of course my father is helping me but he is really not interrupting my job. He never coached me and he never interfered my job and my basketball things. I respect him for that approach. You know it’s not easy to be a father of basketball player. I grow up in really good home, parents were helping me every minute, every second when I needed it. I can’t thank them enough for that support.
Another accent of your heritage past summer was NBA/FIBA Basketball Without Borders Camp in Belgrade. How was that experience for you?
I made BWB and Top 100 camp in Virginia. It was cool. I met new friends and great players. I feel like wherever I can get good competition I will gladly go there every time. I like to compete and I like to win. For me getting the MVP award was really an honor. Also getting to know new coaches, their craft and style was fun. All in all that was a great experience to end the busy and memorable summer.
Since you appeared in many prestigious events and competed versus best players your age in Europe and beyond, do you feel like the best from all of them?
I am not thinking about it that way. What I have on my mind is development. It’s really, really nice to put in work and then seeing results, seeing that people appreciate you, rank you high – that means a lot. At the end of the day you want to reach your max potential and be the best you can be. It’s a really long process but I keep working hard on everything and I think I am gonna make it big.
We all know you as a basketball rising star but how would you describe yourself off the court?
It’s not easy to speak about your own self but I hear a lot from friends that I am really funny and cool kid. I think I am good in making separation between off the court and on the court stuff. When I am not in basketball uniform I do funny things, joke around etc. And then after putting my jersey on I act serious, I am really focused. That separation which I mentioned helps me to keep enjoying the process. To sum up I am chill off the court and killer on the court. At the end of the day I am having fun during this journey. I am smiling all the time and I am on a good way so I just hope it can be continued like that until the end.