Goran Dragic from a Slovenian’s perspective


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.