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Dončić was 13, when he left Ljubljana for Madrid. He is now 19 and is Real's best player, the best player in the EuroLeague, and two-time European champion. Foto: Reuters

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King Luka conquers basketball Europe

What an endorsement for his departure to the NBA
21. May 2018 ob 20:44
Beograd - MMC RTV SLO

Madrid's basketball prince Luka Dončić has finally been crowned a king, ascending the European throne. In Belgrade, the 19-year-old helped Real Madrid to win its tenth European title.

For the entire season, the play of the royal club centred on the Ljubljana-native. And now, Dončić has brought Real Madrid back to the top of Europe. Luka, who is only 19 years old, has become a European club champion. In September he won the Eurobasket with Slovenia, when he was also selected into the All-Tournament Team. He also added EuroLeague individual awards to his fantastic season – he was the MVP of both the regular part of the season and the Final Four tournament, a member of the All-EuroLeague Team, and the recipient of the EuroLeague Rising Star award, i.e. the best young basketball player in Europe. He says his suitcase for returning to Madrid will be quite heavy and full. So, where is the limit? Many people say only the sky is the limit, but Luka says: ‘I don’t know, we’ll see.’

‘My feelings are truly incredible. I am speechless. I do not yet understand and do not know how to describe all of this. Two titles in such a short time, first with Slovenia and now with Real... Brilliant,’ said Dončić after the game in Belgrade. He is (still) a bit reserved when talking to the media, but he is more eloquent on the court. And that was also the case in Serbia’s capital. He did not excel, but he nevertheless held all the threads of Real’s play in his hands. And, on Luka’s 80th game in the EuroLeague, Madrid’s giant won its tenth title.

Luka is breaking record after record. We’ve got used to the fact that, being the youngest, he has always done something. He has succeeded in winning prestigious individual awards – he became the youngest MVP of both the regular part and the Final Four. He was the first Slovene to receive both prizes; well, Arriel McDonald, playing with a Slovene passport, received the MVP Final Four title before him. However, Dončić has won two crowns in just nine months. He won in Istanbul in September, when Slovenia achieved its greatest success in the history of Slovene sport as soon as Dončić joined the team. Now he is at the top with Real. In Turkey, it was Serbia that was defeated in the final, now the roles of the opponent and host switched – the opponent was Istanbul’s Fenerbahçe and the final was held in Serbia.

Last year he was learning, this year he profited from the lesson
He scored 16 points in the semi-final, and one point less in the final. But he had to finish the match early as he was fouled out after committing five fouls. ‘The match was tough. We knew that it would be that way. Fener has an excellent team, they had loud fans and we all know who Željko Obradović is and what a coach he is. When I got my fifth personal foul, I was very nervous sitting on the bench, more than I would be on the playground. We fought until the end. I have brilliant teammates and a great coach. I am happy to be able to play for this team. It is easy to play with such teammates and I truly have fun on the court. I am often asked about the pressure, but I’m really only having fun on the court. If I am not having fun, this is not good. Every possession counts and this is how we played today. I believed in my teammates and we’ve made it.’

He certainly did not enjoy the final tournament in Istanbul last year, when he did not perform well in the semi-final against Fenerbahçe. This time, the situation was totally different. In Belgrade, Luka was more mature and better, with a brilliant season behind him. Statistically, he was already EuroLeague's most efficient player. ‘I keep stressing that last year’s match had both its good and bad sides. The bad side was that we lost, and the good side was that we learned a great deal. I was better prepared this year, I was more self-confident, and this could be seen. We played better, as a real team.’ The final in Belgrade was the most important match in his career. It was actually a maturity exam, because Goran Dragić was the one who had led the Slovenian national team in September, whereas now it was Dončić who carried the greatest burden.

Real suffered a tough blow before the start of the season, as it was left without its first player Sergio Llull. But they trusted Dončić, who took over the responsibility. The move has paid off for the Madrid club. Playing for the national team in September, Luka already announced that he would have a brilliant season, and his games in Real were even better than those played in the Slovene jersey. He thrilled everyone with his all-around game, attractive and ingenious moves and by filling all the statistical columns. But, despite all the awards, he is still a young boy, merely playing on the court. And he is doing it really well and without any fear.

What an endorsement for his departure to the NBA
With all his titles, awards and records, he is already one of the greatest players in Europe, and his next step is obvious – the NBA League. Having achieved everything that can be achieved on the second greatest basketball stage in the world, the time is now ripe for Dončić to step onto the greatest basketball stage. This year, he will be one of the stars of the NBA draft. In Belgrade he was asked many questions about his future and the NBA League. Luka maintains that he will wait for now, he will first enjoy celebrating the title and will make a decision at the end of the season. Former basketball players claim that he is ready for the best league in the world.

Tilen Jamnik from Belgrade; translated by A. L.
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