27 July, 2019
04 August
5 Ziga Samar (SLO)
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Real Madrid's triple-double Slovenian wants no comparison with Luka Doncic

VOLOS (Greece) - Back in 2002, Slovenia were in the Final of the FIBA U18 European Championship. Fast forward 17 years later, and the kids who were toddlers back then could take the country back to the podium.

Erazem Lorbek, Sasha Vujacic and other were stopped by Roko Ukic-led Croatia in the Final in Germany, with Hrvoje Gasparac hitting the game-winning free throws as time expired to break the Slovenian hearts. Not a lot of people expected it back then, but the silver from 2002 remains the only medal that Slovenia won at this level.

The nation is medal-less in the U16 competitions, but the early days of FIBA U20 European Championship completely belonged to Slovenia. Gold in Ohrid in 2000, gold in Brno in 2004, bronze in Izmir in 2006, with a lot of promise for the years to come.

Unfortunately, the FIBA EuroBasket 2017 winners got lost along the way, and the medal cabinet in Ljubljana only counts for four medals from youth events. Here to right that wrong is Ziga Samar. Even if it means he's got to do everything by himself.

"This was my first triple-double," Ziga smiled, dripping in sweat and gasping for air after an exhausting 71-57 Quarter-Finals win over Great Britain in Nea Ionia Hall.

It seemed like Samar wasn't as tired while he was on the floor, collecting 14 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds, as he was after all the celebrations with the teammates and the Slovenian fans in the already packed stands in Volos - the hosts were playing the next game, those who came in early were treated to a triple-double show by Slovenia's point guard.

"This was a really complicated game for us. However, this is what we worked for all summer long, and we finally made it! I want us to really celebrate this win, but already with thoughts about our next game, which will be against Turkey in the Semi-Finals. I really hope we win that one, too," Samar explained.

The triple-double engraved his name in the history of FIBA U18 European Championship. He became only the sixth man to get double digits in three different categories since the traditional boxscores were introduced to youth competitions in 1996. Alongside him are Lithuania's Arnas Velicka and Martynas Andriuskevicius, Russia's legend Andrei Kirilenko, Serbia's Vojislav Stojanovic, and Greece's Vassilis Charalampopoulos.

But Samar's output almost broke another record. His 14 assists are just one shy of the all-time mark, set by Deyan Karamfilov of Bulgaria in 2012.

"I had no idea I dished out 14 assists," Ziga said with a surprised face. "Look, this is a team sport. We aren't individual athletes here, you have to pass the ball to your teammates to get the job done."

The very first play of the game was the best evidence of his approach. Simple dribble hand-off on the left wing, flare screen at the top for Gregor Glas and a perfectly timed sky-high alley-oop by Samar, on point, to prove a point about Slovenia's passing game in Greece.

Coach Peter Markovinovic allows Ziga to do whatever he wants when passing is in question, and be sure to look for his favorite trick play on the baseline out of bounds set. More than once has he caught the opposing defense sleeping with a quick but soft pass to his teammate right under the rim. Turkey, consider yourselves warned...

"All of this is now behind us, and we are fully focused on the game against Turkey. Their guards are big, but that's who they are, that's what we are going up against, and we'll do our best to stand out ground," Samar added.

The fact that Slovenia have a walking triple-double threat, who also happens to wear the shirt of Real Madrid during the season, just sounds all too familiar. But Ziga puts a "STOP" sign up even before you ask the question.

"Listen, there is only one Luka Doncic. Only Doncic can be Doncic, and I don't really think that there will be anybody else like him, ever. I don't want to go into that comparison."

This, younger Slovenian in Madrid, has already started collecting club trophies. Real Madrid won their third straight Spanish Junior League title, with Samar having 11 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals in the Final against arch rivals Barcelona. And the Final in Volos could easily be marked in Real's colors, too, because Usman Garuba, Golden Dike and Jorge Mejias and Spain are also in the Semi-Finals.

"I've talked to Usman every day since we arrived in Greece. We're in the same hotel, we mess around and have fun. I know we'll stay friends for the rest of our lives," Samar said, before getting back to celebrations with his Slovenian teammates.

One more step is needed to end the Slovenian 17-year-long drought at this event. With Samar's 13.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game, it seems more than possible.