Goran Dragic from a Slovenian's perspective

Goran Dragic has become a hero in his homeland after torching the Spurs in Game 3. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Goran Dragic has become a hero in his homeland after torching the Spurs in Game 3. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Editor’s Note: Erik Vidmar, 24, recently finished his fifth year of medical school in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He has played basketball since he was 12 and competed against Goran Dragic when they were both growing up in Slovenia.

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — The first time I saw Goran playing basketball I was 15 years old. We were playing against a small basketball club Iliria from our capital town of Ljubljana.  Before the game our coach warned us about some of their players, especially about one player who was not so very tall, but extremely quick and dangerous for the basket. His name was Goran Dragic.

We thought that our coach was overreacting. But when the game started we saw how quick he was and that even our best defensive players couldn’t stop him. He wasn’t the best shooter, but the way he attacked the rim was incredible. Nobody of our age could do something like that and his ball handling was very good. They won the match because we didn’t have the answer for him. And I still remember that I said that he can really achieve a lot, because in a few minutes of game we saw that he is a special player.

After the game I asked some people about him and they told me that they call him “Gogi,” which is short for Goran, and that they are expecting that soon should appear  an offer from a bigger club. I said that I would keep an eye on him because I hoped that he really would get a good offer and make a name for himself.

After two years in 2004 I heard that basketball club Slovan from a Slovenian league acquired Goran, and I knew that that was great because they were known to be one of the best for development of young, talented players.  After that his career was getting better and better. In 2005 he got the award for best young player in Slovenia and in 2006 he was sold to Tau Ceramica (now Caja Laboral), which is one of the best European clubs. I was only afraid that they wouldn’t play him enough because he was only 20 years old.

I was very happy when I found out in 2007 that Tau Ceramica loaned him to Union Olimpia, which is the best Slovenian basketball club from which many Slovenian players went to the NBA — Marko Milic and more known Rasho Nesterovic, Beno Udrih, Boštjan Nachbar and Primož Brezec.

Goran had in 2007-2008 a good season when he averaged 10 points and three assists per game in Euroleague. But when he announced that he was participating in the NBA Draft in 2008, everybody was a little skeptical because he was still very young and it would be very bad for him if he went to  a club where he wouldn’t get a chance to play and show his huge talent.

Thank God Steve Kerr knew how good a player Goran is and believed in him from the first day. And I think that a huge part of his success lies in Steve Nash, who has been mentoring him for the last two years and believing that Goran can successfully replace him when he decides to retire.

About his historic game against San Antonio Spurs:

When I woke up two days ago I had a text message from my friend on my telephone which said: “I hope you were watching the game because Goran destroyed the Spurs by himself.” So I went to the Internet and when I saw what he did I really couldn’t believe my eyes. That day in every single Slovenian newspaper was the main article about Goran and his explosion against the Spurs.

I think that nobody was surprised a lot because we all knew what he was capable of and we were just waiting for something like this to happen. Everybody agrees on one thing — this is the best performance of any Slovenian player in the NBA. (So if you know how good players like Beno Udrih and Rasho Nesterovic are you know that this is quite an achievement).

Funny thing is that when the Spurs drafted Goran and traded him to the Suns everybody was saying that the Spurs made one of the biggest mistakes because Goran was known to be good in offense but also in defense, which he proved in the European Championship Game against France in 2007 when he was the only player to stop Tony Parker in key moments of the game (Slovenia won that game and they all said that Goran showed he isn’t afraid of NBA players like Parker).

Together with joy after this huge game against the Spurs came the concern that now that Goran showed how important he is for Phoenix that they wouldn’t let him play for Slovenia in September when the Basketball World Championships in Turkey start. We are in a group with USA, Brazil and others so Goran is expected to be a key player alongside Beno Udrih. I think that Phoenix should let him play because the World Championships will be an important experience for Goran playing against teams like USA and others.

At the end I would like to say that I think that Goran is capable of being a great player in the NBA and he only needed a team and a coach to trust him, and he got that in Phoenix. So this game against Spurs is only the beginning of something great, and I don’t doubt that Goran will be making us proud for many seasons to come.

Tags: Goran Dragic

  • Mike Meez

    Thanks, Erik, that's really cool to know more about Goran. I think a lot of people in Phoenix will want to know more about him after his stellar performance against the Spurs. I've been a big fan of his this year. I can't believe how much of an improvement he made since last season. It seems like he had some confidence issues in his first year (that would explain all the turnovers) but the talent was obviously there so I'm glad he's been able to show his skills this season. I'm very proud to have him on our team and am thankful the Suns have finally found a suitable heir to the Nash throne.

    I don't see a reason why the Suns would stop Goran from playing in the World Championships. He's young and doesn't have any injuries which could flare up as far as I'm aware. If anything, I would guess that the Suns would be very supportive of him playing for the Slovenian team. For one, it gets him more experience playing at a high level. I bet he gets at least as many minutes on the Slovenian team as he does as Nash's backup. Second, former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo is the head of USA basketball now and I would think he would encourage NBA players to play at the international level no matter what country they represent.

  • http://www.twitter.com/gruntledpainter Peter

    Really cool info….thank you for this article. Loved hearing a little about Goran’s past and the way he is viewed back at home. We’re proud of him here too!

  • Charles Gilbert

    Awesome article Erik, very interesting to see Goran from your perspective, we love him in Phoenix and can't wait to watch him dismantle the lakers!

  • Erik Vidmar

    I’m happy that you like the article, thanks!

    If you could see Goran’s improvement from 2 years ago when he was playing in Slovenia you would be astonished. He was good back then, but in only 2 years he came from averageing 10 points in Euroleague to being a subtitute for Steve Nash and to destroy Spurs in that game 3. That for me is incredible. You know why he made it? Yeah he has a great talent, but every ex-coach of him will tell you that he is a hard working guy and that I’s why I believe that sky is the limit for him and that he wil be getting better and better.

    I absolutely agree with you that Suns should let him play in World Championships and I hope that that happens. Also coach of our national team said that he is planing to play Goran in the first 5 together with Beno Udrih, so he would get a lot of playing time and experience. And as usual he would be defending the best PG in the opposite team.
    The reason why Suns maybe wouldnt let him in Turkey could be that he wouldnt be fresh for next NBA season (WC in Turkey is in september), maybe they are afraid of any unexpected injury and also some people are saying that Suns may want Goran to play in summer league (I think that would be nonsense)…

  • Erik Vidmar

    john marzan

    Yes thats my slovenian name:) Why do you ask?

  • jason

    kind of a cool 2 way street with Goran and the Suns. Gentry was the right coach to play Goran and give him the time on the court he needed. And Goran is the right player to help the Suns in their transition away from Nash.

    Great article…thank you

  • john marzan

    Erik Vidmar? is that a slovenian name?

  • Erik Vidmar



    Goran is known in Slovenia since 17 years old when he showed his hudge talent in 1st slovenian league. At age of 18 he won gold medal at the 2004 Europe Under-20 Championship with the Slovenian junior national team. He was amazing at 2007 European Championship when he was defending Tony Parker. So here mostly everybody knew he is a great talent…but nobody could imagine that he will make such an improvement in only 2 seasons in NBA.

    So yes, he is a hudge star here and everbody thinks that he can become even better NBA player than Rasho Nesterovi? or Beno Udrih are. I think that in about 2 seasons he can Successfully replace Nash and carry Phoenix to great achievements with a good teammates.

  • Eutychus

    Erik – Great piece and your English is awesome!

    Tell us a little more about how people back in Slovenia view Goran – is he a rockstar over there already?

  • Ace Phoenix

    Thanks for the article Erik, nice to learn more about Gogi and his background and following in Slovenia. I have loved his game since last years pre-season, I just think his confidence needs to continue to grow. We are going to need Goran to be big against the Lakers, not just scoring points, but playing defense and getting the second unit to execute the offense. I must say that is one of the things I like about him most, he tries to get the offense going and if it is not there he is smart enough to attack the basket. I think the Suns now have their own Manu, only we will have Goran for the next 10 years!
    BTW, he should play in the World Championships. It will be great for the Suns to have Amar’e play Goran in the tournament. Especially as representatives of the NBA World Champions.

    Thanks again for the article.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    That will be a hell of a group for Suns fans to watch, with Barbosa also in the mix with Brazil. I think the Suns will and should let him play. He’s young, it’s not a Kobe situation where he really needs the rest, and there’s more of a gain from the experience he would get than there is a detriment from the potential injury/freshness factor.

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  • The Z. Man

    Very good stuff on Gogi.

    Must admit that he stunk up the court so badly that I called him “Tragic” upon that rookie year. Most of you, however, have missed the “point” as to why the HUGE improvement in his game. Kerr was aware that Nash will, one day (hopefully not anytime soon), be over the hill. What we are not that aware of is that, just like with Barbosa, we were attempting to turn a fast, slashing shooting guard into a replacement for Nash. Gogi is VERY good at what he does best.

    He knows how to score and score some more. Regardless of who he will defend, Ace is the ONLY one that seems to understand him when he compares “Magic Dragic” with Manu. International players, like Diaw, Kukoc, Leandro, Manu, and Gogi, all know how to pass the ball. None of these good players, not even “Magic Dragic”, can play the point and play it well. Gogi is a scorer and when Alvin Gentry freed him from having to try to be something that he is not, that is when he has been able to play his best game. Gogi does not even play the point for the Slovenian national team. That would be a waste to have him do something that he is not that good at, when he can play off of the ball and be at his best. Suns will still need a back up point guard to eventually replace Nash. Gogi has thrived playing off of the ball with Nash, LB, Dud, and sometimes even Hill taking on point duty. Gogi is a scorer, like J-Rich and our Brazilian Blur. In his game 3 masterpiece finish, Barbosa directed traffic for the Suns. They play very well together but Leandro plays much better as the scorer, along side Nash.

    MUST start and also finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • Kokis

    Cant disagree with you more. Gogi is a PG since he was little and he never played as a SG, because before he went to NBA his shooting wasnt as good as it is now. He is the best replacement for Nash and he will prove it when Nash goes to retirement. On one or two games Gogi played as SG for Slovenian team and even then he wasnt shooting-he was attacking the rim. On every other games Gogi was playing as PG for Slovenian team and did it perfectly because that is what he does best…and also his defense on opposite point guards is incredible…

  • Erik Vidmar

    Cant disagree with you more. Gogi is a PG since he was little and he never played as a SG, because before he went to NBA his shooting wasnt as good as it is now. He is the best replacement for Nash and he will prove it when Nash goes to retirement. On one or two games Gogi played as SG for Slovenian team and even then he wasnt shooting-he was attacking the rim. On every other games Gogi was playing as PG for Slovenian team and did it perfectly because that is what he does best…and also his defense on opposite point guards is incredible…

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