06 - 21
August 2016
14 Nikola MIROTIC  (Spain)
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Spain's Mirotic fights through adversity

CHICAGO (2016 Rio Olympics) - Nikola Mirotic knows first hand how a basketball player can go from a high to a low in a short space of time. He has experienced this in the past several months.

Mirotic lived a drama last summer with Spain's national team, helping the side overcome a difficult start to the EuroBasket to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and finish top of the podium in France.

The achievement is one of the greatest of his career. Mirotic was all smiles after having a gold medal hung around his neck following the title game victory over Lithuania.

Nikola Mirotic and Pablo Aguilar helped Spain capture the EuroBasket 2015 title and qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics

Looking to build on that momentous summer, Mirotic returned to the United States for his second season in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls. The experience, however, has not been as sweet.

In January, the forward needed an appendectomy. After leaving the hospital, he had to return for a second operation, a hematoma removal. Adding weight loss to the equation and his struggle to regain full fitness, it's been a difficult time for the 25-year-old.

"I am getting better each day," he said to FIBA.com. "I lost approximately 10 pounds after the second surgery. I am trying to gain some weight back but right now, I am lacking a bit of my strength and in my conditioning because I missed 16 games, which is five weeks off the court. So right now, it has been a little bit hard for me."

Mirotic has been in a race against time. He has been trying to get all of his strength back to help the Chicago Bulls.

"I am trying my best to be back at that level as soon as I can. I need a couple of games more to be back to my 100 percent but right now, I just have to stay focused and try to help the team with how ever many minutes I am going to play each night because I know they need me as we are still trying to fight for the play-offs. It's a really important moment for us right now." 

Mirotic returned to action after his long lay-off on 5 March and his best game since was against the New York Knicks on 23 March, when he poured in 35 points. However, his team lost that contest, one of many in 2016 that has put their bid to reach the playoffs in danger. Something that Mirotic learned last year with Spain may help the Bulls.

"We need to put our heads up and stay together," he said. "That's the only way we will achieve something great, we need to play hard. We can't give up right now; there are plenty of games left."

In the tough times, Mirotic may want to reflect on his EuroBasket experience to bring a smile back and to be reminded of the possibilities. He played in front of record crowds in Lille, France, and won big games. The biggest of all came against the French, when his Chicago Bulls teammate Pau Gasol carried Spain for long stretches of the game to victory. It was that triumph that sealed a spot in the Rio de Janeiro Games.

"It was a great experience for me," he said. "It was my first EuroBasket with the senior national team and it was a bit hard, too. I had played with the (Spain) U20s for two competitions before, including one when we won the continental title.

I felt very lucky to be part of that great (Spain) team and make history as we won the title last summer. We didn't start the tournament very well and we had to fight hard to go to the second round. It is a bit similar to the situation we are living with the Bulls right now. We had to stick together, trust in ourselves. After each game, we played better and better and we won. I am really glad that I could live that experience. - Mirotic

While his concentration is on getting 100 percent healthy again and helping Chicago reach the post-season, Mirotic admits he has thought about the possibility that he will make his Olympic bow in Rio.

For every professional athlete, being in the Olympics is a dream. Of course, I'd like to be there and compete in Rio. - Mirotic

"But right now, my mind is on the Bulls and the NBA season. I am focused on finishing this season well, on trying to help my team make it to the play-offs," he pointed out.

Mirotic certainly did not expect to have the hard times that he has experienced the past few months. His confidence was soaring after the EuroBasket. The title run with Spain had set him up to have a terrific sophomore season in the NBA.

"Especially after the EuroBasket when I came to the Bulls for the training camp, I was ready to compete for my second year in the league," he said. "I played and worked hard during the summer so I was ready to play. If you watch my first 10 games of this season, I was playing very well. I was playing with a lot of confidence; it helped me to be in great shape for the beginning of the NBA season. Playing at international level is great and hopefully, I can repeat this again."

Mirotic wants nothing more than to play at the Olympics, but he wants to arrive at camp feeling good physically, and mentally. He will certainly be in a better mood if the Bulls can overcome a rash of injuries, rediscover their winning touch and make it to the play-offs.

"It has been hard," he said. "Because if you see that more closely, we don't practice very often all together. A guy gets injured; another one comes back from recovering. It's hard, but we need to compete with the guys who are available right now. Some guys are playing very well and we need to do our best. We have approximately 10 games left. We had a bad losing streak recently and we need to stick together and bounce back."