Rudez wants to be veteran presence on Croatia's EuroBasket roster
Damjan Rudez is eager to return to the Croatia squad and help the national team build on the positive momentum that started last summer during its successful FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) campaign in Turin.
Having suited up for the Croatians since their 2008 Olympic appearance in Beijing, Rudez took last summer off with other veterans and the team still managed to not only win the OQT but also make it to the Quarter-Finals of the Rio de Janeiro Games.
The addition of a veteran presence or two, it is hoped, will bolster an already formidable roster that is led by coach Aco Petrovic.
"I couldn’t go last time because of my contract situation," the 30-year-old Rudez said to FIBA.com, "but the door of the national team has never been closed. I would like to play for the national team this summer; I want to help.
"There are great things ahead for Croatia's senior national team."
Rudez enjoyed a good start to the NBA with the Indiana Pacers under coach Frank Vogel. He moved last summer to the Orlando Magic, where fellow national team star Mario Hezonja also plays. Vogel, who had been fired by the Pacers, coached Orlando this season.
The outfit finished 12 games out of the Eastern Conference Play-Offs. Rudez did not play as much as he had hoped but tried to be supportive of his teammates.
"It was a very challenging season, that is for sure," he said. "Nobody expected to be that much of a failure, that was a hard one.
"I started the season with a non-guaranteed deal as coach Vogel wanted me in the team. I had some ups and downs and this season leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth. As a veteran, I did my best to show some leadership and show the example even if I wasn't playing some games. In every circumstance, you have to do the job, there is no alternative."
The experience was a far cry from what he had gone through in Indiana, a state famous for its love of the game.
"I will never forget my time in Indianapolis," Rudez said. "It was a very positive experience and I played very well during my spell there.
"I learned a lot during my time there and I really enjoyed the fact that the fans are amazing. The fan base reminded me of European fans. Basketball in Indiana is a religion, it was a privilege to play for the Pacers."
It's also a source of immense pride for Rudez to put on the Croatia jersey. He has made some important contributions to the national team cause over the years, including at FIBA EuroBasket 2013 when he had a memorable game in an important victory over Finland. Rudez drilled 5-of-8 shots from the arc and scored 17 points in that triumph that was part of an eight-game winning streak at the tournament for Croatia, who finished fourth.
The following year, Rudez played at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain but Croatia exited after a narrow defeat to France in the Round of 16 and in 2015, he was with the team when it had a very poor FIBA EuroBasket that ended in an 80-59 drubbing by the Czech Republic in the last 16.
Last year, Rudez looked on with pride as Croatia bounced back against all expectation and won the OQT in Italy, with Bojan Bogdanovic and Dario Saric leading the way.