Luka to play for Slovenia at World Cup
LJUBLJANA (Slovenia) - The reaction of Slovenia superstar Luka Doncic to his country's qualification for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 following its win over Germany last week in the European Qualifiers was swift.
He informed the country's basketball federation he will play in the 32-team hoops extravaganza that will be staged in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.
"Luka confirmed his participation a minute after the game (Nov. 14) with Germany, when it was certain that we would go to the championship," Slovenia Basketball Federation (KZS) President Matej Erjavec revealed to rtvslo.si. "To be very honest, we were actually 99% sure already after the (Nov. 11) game against Israel and even then, it was a great joy and a reassurance at the same time. If Luka is healthy, there is no fear at all."
So the man that has been in dazzling form with Slovenia the past two years, the Dallas Mavericks talisman vying to become the third European in the past five years to become the Most Valuable Player of the NBA after Greece's Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019, 2020) and Serbia's Nikola Jokic (2021, 2022), is all in with national team for the third year in a row.
Doncic has set international basketball alight.
He led Slovenia to triumph at the 2021 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas and then to fourth place at the Tokyo Games, and this summer fired Slovenia to first place in the EuroBasket 2022 group of death (Group B) in Cologne before a shock defeat to Poland in the Quarter-Finals.
"Luka confirmed his participation a minute after the game with Germany" - KZS President Matej Erjavec
With the NBA season underway and Doncic averaging a league best 34.3 points per game, he was not with Slovenia in the fifth window as it punched a ticket for the World Cup. He was, however, with the team in spirit.
"His attitude is really amazing," Erjavec said. "It was 6:00 a.m. in Dallas when there was the game with Israel. He watched this game. It's not the easiest thing to get up at 6:00 a.m. to watch a game when you have games and away games.
"What can I say, we are happy to have him and we are aware of his importance on the court as well as off it. To make it all easier to understand, you have to see it here on the spot in Dallas. Unbelievable. Everyone has his jersey. He can't move around town without fans waiting for him. Really extraordinary."
Luka-mania also struck the EuroBasket, and especially Cologne, where the 23-year-old erupted for 47 points in one game, an 88-82 victory over France, and averaged a staggering 26.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.6 assists in seven games.
He was spectacular game after game after game. Against hosts Germany, Doncic poured in 36 points, corralled 10 rebounds and handed out four assists. He was unstoppable.
More impressive than the numbers was the way Doncic went about his scoring and playmaking, and also did, with the exception of the massive upset by Poland, what was needed to win.
He truly was a wizard on the hardwood with his shot making, ball handling, mesmerizing passing and defense. It's no wonder that fans have started calling Doncic the Slovenia Sorcerer.
Among the fans that came to watch Doncic in Cologne were his employers, including Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and his coach, NBA legend Jason Kidd.
Kidd, Doncic and Cuban applauded as Dirk Nowitzki was honored on opening night at the EuroBasket in Cologne
Erjavec says the Mavs see the benefits of Doncic playing for his country and are fully behind him being at the World Cup.
"Without a doubt," he said. "Surely this is also a result of the fact that he came well prepared after being active all summer ... such a monstrous start to the season, as far as numbers are concerned, which are practically hard to imagine.
"Undoubtedly, this is the result of good preparation. The club, led by coach Jason Kidd and owner Mark Cuban, approves of this approach. They approve of his participation."
Before their qualification for the World Cup, there was undoubtedly a hangover in Slovenia from the unexpected Quarter-Final exit at the EuroBasket on September 14. All of the incredible moments with Doncic, the thrills he created in Cologne in the packed arena, can't erase a painful moment in the country's basketball history, the 90-87 defeat to Poland.
The Poles led by as many as 23 points in the game that was played in Berlin.
"Absolutely, the result at the European Championship is a failure," said Erjavec, who adds that it will be something Slovenia must learn from.
"What did we learn? That you always have to be one hundred percent and really be connected. It is necessary to communicate, talk about problems and solve them on the fly. Above all, be 100% every time and give your best."
Fans craving Doncic's autograph were everywhere in Germany, and they will be at the World Cup, too
Slovenia supporters now have happier things to think about. Doncic will be at the World Cup and that alone is cause for every fan to celebrate, those in Slovenia, in Dallas and everywhere else.