Dragic looks forward to playing alongside teen sensation Doncic
Goran Dragic is the undisputed leader of Slovenia's national team. A member of the All-Star Five at FIBA EuroBasket 2013 and also Slovenia's best player at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Dragic's absence was felt when he missed EuroBasket 2015. The national team reached the Round of 16 but fell to Latvia.
He returned to the fold in 2016 and provided much of the inspiration for the team as it qualified for FIBA EuroBasket 2017. Dragic has spoken to FIBA.com.
You have played for Slovenia’s national team for quite a while now. What do you think about the recent dynamic of the team?
When I first started to play for the national team, we were among the best teams in Europe. We had a lot of NBA players and guys who were having great careers in top European teams. After this, things went down for a couple of years after guys like (Rasho) Nesterovic, (Matjaz) Smodis, and (Bostjan) Nachbar retired. During those transition years, we didn't develop that many players. Nobody came up to keep the national team at the same level. That was a little bit of a struggle, but right now we feel that we have once again a competitive team. Our group of guys is going to compete hard; we have guys that are doing very well in Europe with top teams.
The solid team performances and the successful qualification for FIBA EuroBasket 2017 must have made for a very good last summer for you?
For me, it meant a lot. That is how I got my preparation for this season, by doing a training camp and playing some competitive games before coming back to Florida. It is always a privilege for me to play with the national team and make the fans happy. We had a great summer by winning all of our games and next summer I'm looking forward to the competition. I'm the oldest guy on the team, we have a lot of young talents, but I feel young (laughs). I am 30 years old; I've never had major injuries so I feel good.
Everybody is talking right now about the new Slovenian phenomenon, Luka Doncic of Real Madrid. What do you think about his recent progression?
He is going to be a very special player. He is already showing his talent in the Euroleague, putting up big numbers for a 17-year-old kid. The way he plays, the fact that he plays in money time is just great. I am looking forward to playing with him next summer. I wish him all the best and I hope he stays healthy because that's most important. He is such a talented guy; he is going to keep getting better.
Do you talk to him often?
We talk sometimes, yes. But I try to keep a bit of space because he knows what he is doing. I have known him since he was kid because I played with his father. Luka was a ball boy for our games. He is in good hands, playing with a top organization in Europe, they know what they are doing and he is a smart kid.
Slovenia are included in Helsinki’s Group A alongside Finland, France, Poland, Greece and Iceland.
It's a good draw. I really like it. It's going to be some interesting games. The teams in our group are very good, but we feel that after what happened last summer and the talent we have, we can match up with those teams. We can compete against the best.
What would be the goal for Slovenia at FIBA EuroBasket 2017?
First, it's to qualify for the next round. From there, everything would be possible. It's a bit too early to talk about the competition as there are still so many games in our seasons and we don't know who's going to be here and healthy or not.
How have you coped with the ups and downs of the Miami Heat this season?
I'm good and we're fine. We're on our way to finding a better balance. I think we're playing now much better basketball than during the first part of the season. What happened was normal you know, we had a lot of new faces, nine new players, and it takes time to develop that chemistry but we are on our way to being in a better dynamic.
As Dwyane Wade left the team for the Chicago Bulls, you are now the leader of the Heat.
I always try to do my best. I already had this kind of role when I was in Phoenix, so it's nothing new for me. I still continue to work hard and I'm always here to help the team as much as I can. The team is very different from last year, nobody said it would be easy but we're going to keep fighting. Is it going to be sufficient or not? I don't know, we'll see at the end of the regular season.
You're now 30. After all those years in the NBA, how do you see your career in the best league of the world up to now?
I came to the USA when I was 20, 21 after playing a season in the Euroleague. It's a whole process to get used to the NBA's way of playing. At the beginning it was tough, I developed my game and now I play a bit differently than the way I was playing when I first came to the league. At first I was more penetrating, going to the rim and now I can do a bit of everything. I feel way more of a complete player now.