The Slovenia Times

Nothing Is Impossible



Milic, whose slam-dunk over a Honda car at the age of 17 was shown on CNN and was believed to have contributed to his move to America, broke the ice for Slovenian players, although, unfortunately without any major success. After only half a season and without being given a proper chance to shine, he was traded to the Phoenix Suns. Milic, who was nicknamed "Milky Way" in the USA, enjoyed slightly more success in Arizona but returned to Europe after two years, embittered and disappointed. He criticised the NBA for its lack of sporting spirit. "It is only business and has got nothing to do with sports," he would say. Others were more fortunate. Raso Nesterovic, 29, was drafted by Minnesota in 1998. He joined the team full-time in 1999, after two years with Kinder Bologna, whom he had helped to second place in the Euroleague Championship. Interestingly, he hardly hit the court at all as a member of Olimpija Ljubljana, following a dispute with the then coach, Zmago Sagadin. He became a regular Minnesota player in 1999 and has enjoyed considerable success since the outset. He moved to San Antonio Spurs in 2003 where he replaced the legendary David Robinson as the starting centre for this top NBA team. Nesterovic has a long-term contract with the Spurs, believed to be worth around USD 14 m, which makes him the highest paid Slovenian athlete in history. Amidst much scepticism, Primoz Brezec, 25, was the next to try his luck in the NBA. He joined Indiana in 2000 and for a while it seemed that he would follow in Milic's footsteps. In his first three years, he barely touched the ball and was apparently considering a return to Europe. Everything changed when he joined the less established Charlotte Bobcats last year. He became their starting centre and one of the key players in the team; this season he averaged 13 points per game, a Slovenian record in the NBA. He is now ranked as one of the best centres in the NBA. His best score is 27 points and 11 rebounds in a game against Shaquille O'Neil's Miami. Bostjan Nachbar, 24, joined the Houston Rockets in 2002, but it proved to be a nightmare for the native of Dravograd. In his rookie season, he only appeared in 14 games with an average of 5.5 minutes and 2.1 points per game. The following year was a bit better, but when the 2002 story began to repeat itself in 2004 it became clear that he should move on. His world changed at Christmas when he was traded to the New Orleans Hornets and he has been enjoying regular outings ever since. The fact that his team, as with Brezec's Bobcats, is at the bottom of the NBA probably does not bother him too much as he has at least been given a chance to show his talent. His contract ends in July and time will tell whether he has done enough to impress the managers and earn an extension. When news about 23-year-old Beno Udrih's excellent performances began filtering through from America last year, most people were surprised that he had even made it to the NBA. Despite being a player of considerable quality, he was never considered a real star in Europe. From Olimpija, he moved to Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2002 but left after only one season. Last year, he split the season between Saratov (Russia) and Breil (Italy) and was considering a move to the now practically defunct Krka Novo mesto, before making the move to San Antonio and teaming up with Nesterovic. He secured his position on the draft during a summer camp in Chicago and immediately became a regular on the active team roster, averaging six points per game with a season high of 25 points. When Sasa Vujacic, 21, joined the Los Angeles Lakers last year it was probably an even bigger surprise for people in Slovenia than in Udrih's case, namely because he had never played in the Slovenian League nor appeared for the national team. Many people had never even heard of him as he left Slovenia for Italy as a junior. Vujacic had a typical rookie season; in other words, he did not get much court time but, even so, more than many other rookies. To date, he has played 35 NBA games and averages 11.5 minutes on court and 2.9 points per game. He was "fortunate" that the entire LA team did not do very well this season. Who's next? One or two more Slovenians might soon join the magic five. Sani Becirovic's rights are already held by the Denver Nuggets but he has decided to stay in Europe for at least one more season. Jaka Lakovic might appear on the draft later this year. This season, he played for Panathinaikos (Greece) and made a tremendous impact on the European stage.


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