Ebay, official Real Madrid online store, Spanish sites… February 2017 and still impossible to get your hands on a jersey Luka Doncic. The goal ? Acquire the precious good before anyone else and position yourself among “those who knew”. Those who knew that the (at the time) 17 broom Slovenian would one day become one of the greatest European players of all time.
It is not a question of taking the wagon in motion but of driving the locomotive. With as proof a number 7 flocked in the back of the white tunic. Not that of Cristiano Ronaldo, huh. It’s basketball in question. In February 2017, while fans of the orange ball were getting excited over the transfer of DeMarcus Cousins or revolted in front of the All-Star Game, Luka Doncic quietly celebrated his 18th birthday and his good hundred matches played with the pros. Euroleague, Liga Endesa, the high level, he knows. For a long time (emphasize the “long”).
At 16, he was already groping the ball with the greatest in Europe. Kyle Hinespart of CSKA Moscow, was also very surprised when he looked at the pre-match report of a match at stake disputed a year earlier, in January 2016. Wow this kid is sixteen years old! repeated the American. The Russians intended to exploit what they perceived as a weakness of Madrid.
In the absence of the boss Sergio Llull, it is indeed the nugget of the training center which was bombarded at the end. The goal ? Make it explode under pressure. Give him a warm welcome among the grown-ups. 13 minutes, 12 points, two award-winning baskets and 5 rebounds later, the native of Ljubljana calmed the people.
Luka Doncic aka Baby Face Killah
It’s easy to target him. It’s still a kid or almost. He is barely of age and does not even have his driver’s license. A child who faces men every day on a field. But thinking that he will eventually crack is the first mistake that leads his opponents to their loss. Pressure, he honors it like any good gentleman.
« For him, it’s natural. He is not afraid of anything, he loves competition “, confides Igor Kokoskov, his coach in selection.
« The way he copes with it all… it’s as if he takes pleasure in controlling his adrenaline. »
This instinct may have been innate, but it developed over the incredibly early journey of being the best player of his generation. At the age of seven, this son of a former pro player (Sasha Doncic) and a dancer started basketball… with his primary school team. A year later, he showed up for training at the Olimpija academy, dad’s club. He wandered off.
After sixteen minutes, the coaches sent him to play with the 1996s (he was born in 1999 – editor’s note). At the end of the session, he again passed to the category above. The eight-year-old Luka therefore played his first U12 seasons – the regulations prohibited him from playing in U14 – against children much older than him. Lojze Sisko, the last to have coached him in U12 before his departure for Madrid, testifies:
« He had it in him from birth. You can’t learn some of the things he was doing. It’s impossible. The most incredible was the way his personality changed. He was very focused on the pitch, very confident and competitive. But once the match was over, he was back to being that always smiling boy who made jokes. »
The face of a preteen, the maturity of a wise old man. And the composure of a hitman. Whether now, at EuroBasket, in the Spanish championship or even at thirteen, the observation was therefore always the same: this little one does not look like much, but he dominates his world. First example during a U13 tournament in Rome a few years ago. Doncic shows up, plants 54 pawns, takes 11 rebounds, delivers 10 assists and is elected MVP.
« At that time, I told someone that Luka reminded me of Drazen Petrovic. An assassin with a baby face “recalls Srecko Bester, basketball manager at Union Olimpija.
If he exudes so much charm on a basketball court, it may be because he has never forgotten that his sport was above all a passion before becoming his profession. Even stronger, it is somewhere a reason to live.
« I often said to Luka: ”Tomorrow you are free, stay at home and play with your toys. You need to rest.” The next day at noon, his parents called me to ask if Luka could come to practice because he was begging them to go. His passion for competition was incredible “recalls Jernej Smolnikar, his coach between 2007 and 2011.
The big orange ball, he fell in when he was little. At nine springs, he attended all his father’s matches.
« I remember it stayed under the basket “, says Goran Dragic… former teammate of Luka Doncic senior and today roommate of the son.
« Even at that age, it was obvious that he felt good about the game. Like his father. When we came back from the locker room at halftime, he was always there shooting. I have always kept this memory in mind. »
Figures of Slovenian basketball everywhere in his entourage. Rasho Nesterovic, figure of the country passed by the NBA, is also his godfather. He bathed in it. The game, he understands it, he feels it. He even breathes it. Which makes a scout from the US league say that the point guard has already ” light years ahead on his main competitors in the 2018 draft, namely the more athletic but less talented Michael Porter Jr and Marvin Bagley III.
« We could all beat Larry Bird, Dirk Nowitzki or Kevin McHale in running. But what he has cannot be learned. »