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Triumph at FIBA EuroBasket 2017 is the highlight of my career, says Dragic
The 32-year-old Miami Heat point guard, now back with his NBA club for the preseason, had a summer to remember, guiding his country to a first-ever medal on the international stage at senior level and claiming the MVP award as well.
"To win a European title and to be on top of the throne for four years, that is the highlight of my career."Goran Dragic
Having had a podium finish as a goal before the tournament, Dragic admits the Slovenes exceeded their own expectations in Turkey, going the extra mile and defeating the all-mighty Spain in the Semi-Finals before holding off Serbia in the Gold Medal game.
In an interview with FIBA.basketball, Dragic reflected on the FIBA EuroBasket 2017 experience, talked about realizing his childhood dream and shared his thoughts on other topics, including his national team roommate Luka Doncic and his own decision to retire from international basketball.
Goran, you are now back in Miami after a busy summer. How do you feel after those intense couple of months?
I feel good. A little bit tired, but I think I am going to be ready for the season. I feel that I am in good shape, as I already have 16 games under my belt, so it's not going to be an issue for me. I am here to help the team reach the best chemistry before the beginning of the season and I am looking forward to the start of the season.
Going back to when you started preparations for FIBA EuroBasket 2017 with the national team, did you expect to have such a successful summer?
We were expecting (pause)…we were hoping that we would win a medal and our goal was to win a medal. In reality, we were more targeting the third place in the tournament, but in this kind of tournaments, you never know. You can have a good day and you can have a bad one. If you play good basketball, everything is possible. We demonstrated that and we deserved to win a gold medal. We did beat all the best teams – Spain, Serbia, Latvia, France. That wasn't nothing you know. We played very well throughout the whole tournament. We enjoyed every single moment of the tournament.
When did you guys realize that Slovenia could conquer the European crown and win it all?
It was probably before the start of EuroBasket. We had two games against Croatia, including one at home where we beat them by 11 points [behind closed doors] and another one where it was a close game in front of the fans and the media. Croatia is a great team and has plenty of talented guys. I would say those two games before the tournament helped us grow our confidence levels and build great team chemistry. Of course, every game counts, especially in the first round and we did beat Finland, Greece, France, and we told ourselves even more that we have a chance. But we knew it wasn't going to be easy. In the Second Round, we knew that if we lose, we would go home. One of the toughest games for us was the one against Latvia. That is for sure.
"The best way to finish my international career was with a title."Goran Dragic
Head coach Igor Kokoskov had a very big role in making the team grow in the last couple of months. What do you think he brought to the team?
He brought his experience and his American mentality. We had a lot of systems and plays to run and everybody felt very comfortable in them. Our game was fast, a little bit up-tempo but we also knew how to play in the half court too. I have known him from my rookie years when I was with the Phoenix Suns and he is such a great coach. He brings some calm vibes to the environment that everyone needs on and off the court. He is always under control, he has things under control. Every player on the team, from the captain to the guys who spent less time on the court, believed that we could make it. And we did it.
About your leadership. You had the soul of a leader and demonstrated it on and off the court. How do you feel about that aspect and do you feel more complete as a basketball player after winning the title?
Yes, definitely. As a competitive guy, you always want to win titles and medals. Okay, I won a gold medal at the FIBA U20 European Championship, but I didn’t play a lot as I was too young. And I have won the Slovenian domestic league title, but winning the EuroBasket is something that every kid dreams about. To win a European title and to be on top of the throne for four years, that is the highlight of my career. Hopefully, I will win an NBA title too someday and I am working towards that every day.
What about Luka Doncic, who had an amazing tournament?
He had an amazing tournament. Everybody helped him – from Igor (Kokoskov) to every single player and person from the staff. Before the tournament, some people and some media were saying that he needs to score 20 points every game. And I kept saying: "Come on, calm down, guys, he is 18 years old. Just let him play, let him play his own game. It's going to be great." During the first two games of the competition, he was a bit nervous, but starting with the third one, he started to open up and played at an unbelievable level until the end of the tournament. He was a big factor in the team, he gave us that versatility. He can play well on offense and on defense, he can pass the ball, he can shoot the ball. He is very special.
Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis and Lauri Markkanen all had amazing performances in the EuroBasket 2017. What is your opinion about the new generation of European talents and what do you think about the level of competition?
It was a very competitive tournament. Markkanen? What an unbelievable player. We played against him – he is a big man that can shoot the ball and can play with the ball in his hands. Look at Kristaps Porzingis, at Luka Doncic… and there were so many other rising stars during this tournament. It's good for European basketball; those are the new faces of European basketball and of course for the NBA too.
You decided to retire from international duty after the tournament…
The best way to finish my international career was with a title. I am not going to be able to play anymore and Igor (Kokoskov) is not going to be able to coach the national team. I am also going to turn 32 years of age, I want to spend time with my family and my body is getting old too. The NBA season is very long as well.