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Globe-trotter, late starter Samanic out to follow in stars’ footsteps
ZAGREB (FIBA U16 European Championship 2016) - After living in four countries and picking up basketball rather late, Luka Samanic is ready to follow in some big Croatian stars' footsteps, starting at the FIBA U16 European Championship 2016.
Being the son of a journeyman player often means moving from one country to the next in the twilight of your father's career. And that's exactly what happened to Samanic, who was 9 months old when his father Marko Samanic picked up his family and moved to Belgium to play there in 2000.
Marko Samanic would also bring his young family to Slovenia and Germany with young Luka coming to the games. "After every practice I would stay and shoot and dribble," Samanic recalled.
But when it came time for the younger Samanic to play sports, basketball was not high up on his list.
"All of my friends were playing football, and that's the main reason why I also started football," Samanic said. "I played football, handball, tennis - basketball was last."
While his father put together a 19-year professional basketball career, Samanic didn't start the game until he was 11 years old. And he believes playing other sports was a blessing.
"Football helped me a lot in co-ordination," said the 2.08m forward. "Usually boys who quickly grow are clumsy and slow. But I think for now I am the other way."
Samanic is already considered one of the top players of the 2000 generation - another highly regarded Croatian player.
"The Croatian people love sports and kids start to train very early," said Samanic. "I think there are a lot of talented children and if they are noticed in time and put in the appropriate training process a lot of them have a chance to succeed."
When asked if he feels pressure of being a prospect with talent, he added: "There is no pressure. I think we are still not professionals but only prospects. At the moment, I am just enjoying the game. I train well and will look to see what the future brings."
The future after Radom will see Samanic head to Spain to play for Barcelona.
"In the next two years, I want to move forward in my game and I think Barcelona is the right place for a young player to go," he said. "Everything is well organised - from school to nutrition to training."
But before that, Samanic and his team-mates are going for Croatia's third cadet title after crowns in 1995, 2010 and 2011. The team is drawn into Group B with Germany, Turkey and hosts Poland.
"It's not an easy group, each team has its own quality. If we don't go into each game at 100 percent, we can lose to anyone," Samanic said.
Croatia have not gotten past the Quarter-Finals since winning back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011.
"I think it's time for us to change that," Samanic said about the streak of four summers without a spot in the Semi-Finals. "I believe our team has what it takes and we will certainly do our best to get into the top eight. If we accomplish that who knows what can happen next."
After winning their titles at the beginning of the decade, Croatia lost in the 2012 and 2013 Quarter-Finals and finished ninth and 11th the last two summers.
Luka Samanic has some big shoes to fill if he wants to make it to this picture.
"It is certainly a great motivation for me and the rest of the team. Saric and Hezonja have already achieved a lot in their careers, and each of us would like to follow their footsteps," Samanic said.
He may be late to the sport, but Samanic has big talent and a loud game - just like some Croatian superstars before him.