There was a time when Croatia was one of the most feared basketball teams in the world. They had Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja, Arijan Komazec, Zan Tabak and Stojko Vrankovic who formed the core of their Golden Generation. They came, they saw and they conquered as they finished in the top three in the Olympics, Eurobasket and the FIBA Worlds.
After finishing seventh in the FIBA World Championships of 1996, that fabled team – already without Petrovic who passed away due to a car accident three years earlier – ended their run to give way to a new generation of Croat ballers. Unfortunately, the teams that came after Petrovic and company were never up to the task as the highest they could finish was fourth place in Eurobasket 2013.
It has been 20 years as two generations of Croatian basketball hopefuls have come and gone. If this team of Roko Ukic, Ante Tomic, Luksa Andric, Dontaye Draper, Bojan Bogdanovic, Damjan Rudez, Damir Markota, Krunoslav Simon, Dario Saric, Luka Zoric and naturalized point guard Oliver Lafayette – with an average age of 25 years of age – play cohesive and team basketball, we could see the shift of European basketball dominance from the Iberian Peninsula to the Balkans.
Point guard: Roko Ukic is one of three players with NBA experience as he was a point guard for the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks before deciding that the NBA isn’t his thing (he didn’t get much minutes) so he went back to Europe.
Ukic it a tall point guard at 6-foot-5, is a very good ballhandler with a variety of moves to get him to the basket. He’s a creative passer with terrific vision.
The problem is for a player of his talents he doesn’t produce much in terms of points or assists.
If he doesn’t do too well, expect Croatia to tap Oliver Lafayette who is the team’s naturalized American player (taking over from Dontaye Draper). Lafayette played only one game in the NBA for the Boston Celtics where he scored seven points while adding four rebounds and two assists before he packed his bags to Europe.
Like Draper, he is a pest on defense but isn’t as quick. Can shoot from the outside but strong suit is driving to the basket.
Shooting Guard: Krunoslav Simon. A highly erratic shooter. But even if he isn’t knocking down baskets, he pitches in by playing smothering defense on his man. The problem is, Croatia needs him to knock down those shots. Hasn’t replicated his deadly form from the 2011-12 season.
Small Forward: Bojan Bogdanovic, 6-foot-8. Can run the break, shot off the screen and roll, can drive to the basket either left or right, can post up, and spin around the defense. Croatia likes to isolate Bogdanovic and let him create.
He is one of Croatia’s better post-up threats where he can back his defender down. One he gets down low, has options to shoot over his man or pass out to a shooter or can spin for a lay-up or dunk.
Power Forward: Dario Saric is a versatile 6-foot-10 forward who can score, rebound and pass. Unfortunately for him, he too is turnover prone and erratic on offense. Likes to shoot medium range jumpers. If he is off his range, then he finds ways to help his team.
Center: Ante Tomic is a 7-foot-2 center, was drafted by the Utah Jazz in 2008 but has yet to cross the Atlantic as he currently plays for Barcelona. This past season with Barca, he averaged 15.8 points and 6.4 rebounds. His numbers are slightly down save for his assists that went up from 1.7 to 2.1.
But Tomic is mobile and agile. Has great moves in and around the post. Will back up his man then spin left for the hook or right for the up and under. He can also run the court as a trailer on the break and finish. Defensively, not great though.
They are young and they have the height. They are talented for sure but people would speak of them in even more glowing terms if they were more consistent. Flawed defensively though.
It would be interesting to see the Philippines handle their height and the length.
(The Philippines-Croatia game will be aired on ABS-CBN Sports + Action on August 31 at 7 p.m.)