Murcia's Radoncic taking next steps after leaving Madrid family
To encourage the development of more young local talents, the Basketball Champions League requires its teams to register at least 5 Home Grown Players on the game score sheet (if 11 or more players listed, otherwise 4 if roster has 10 or fewer players). Many of these players are considered top level talents in their respective countries and I will be taking a look at some of them over the course of the season.
MURCIA (Spain) - It should not be a surprise that Dino Radoncic was excited about coming to UCAM Murcia. After all, the 20-year-old forward was reuniting with some old friends and taking with them the next step in his already-successful career.
Radoncic came to Murcia in January after starting the season with Burgos on loan from Real Madrid. The young talent has already worked his way into his new team and averaged 2.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in four Basketball Champions League games while picking up 4.3 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.5 assists in four ACB games.
“The transition was very easy for me. I already knew all the players, coaches, staff members so everybody really made everything easier for me. All the people in the club are very kind too. Everybody tried to help me so I can feel like at I am at home now,” said Radoncic, who while at Real Madrid was teammates with Murcia’s Emanuel Cate and Carlos Unanue and played under Murcia’s head coach Javier Juarez.
That home feeling is quite important for Radoncic after spending four years with Real Madrid and really growing up in the club. But he and club leaders agreed that it would be best for him to head somewhere else on loan to get the necessary playing time to improve and then come back.
“We made a decision that the best thing for me was to go and play on loan. Learn, play and grow. One year will help me a lot, so that was a great decision,” said Radoncic, who joined Madrid in 2014 as a 15-year-old. “It was tough for me to leave the club because it’s a second home for me. I feel really loved there, and it’s my family. But it was a big motivation to work hard and try to come back.”
Radoncic had some great moments already in his career with Madrid. On October 10, 2015 - at just 16 years old - he got the chance to play against an NBA team as Real Madrid faced the Boston Celtics.
“It was a dream come true. I still can’t believe I played against the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas. I hope I can repeat that again, and I am working hard to do it again,” said Radoncic, who played 4:59 minutes and had 2 rebounds in the NBA European tour game.
Eight days later, on October 18, Radoncic made his Spanish ACB debut against Gipuzkoa.
“It was great. I was with first team because of Jeff Taylor’s injury, so they gave me a chance to debut, and it was great. It was the beginning of something special. My motivation got only bigger,” said Radoncic, who played 2 minutes in that game - the first of three ACB appearances that season.
Radoncic’s wild two-week ride finished four days later on October 22 when he made his EuroLeague debut and even scored against Crvena Zvezda.
“It was great to debut against them because I grew up in Serbia, and all the people were watching that. I had like 300 messages after the game, so it was great. A big and nice experience,” he said.
Great friendship with Doncic
Radoncic’s time at Real Madrid coincided with that of Luka Doncic - both from the youth ranks to their beginnings with the pro team. In fact, the duo have a lot of similarities. Both were raised in the former Yugoslavia. Radoncic was born in Germany, moved to Spain when he was 5 years old and then to Serbia at age 8. Doncic was born and raised in Slovenia. Both also have fathers who were athletes. Radoncic's dad, Damir, played handball for the Yugoslavian national team and Doncic's father, Sasa, played at FIBA EuroBasket 2005 for Slovenia. Both were also born in 1999; Radoncic turned 20 in January and Doncic celebrated his 20th birthday at the end of February.
The two were always very close - heck, Radoncic even has Luka Doncic’s surname right there in his own surname.
“I first met him playing against him,” remembered Radoncic, who moved from Serbia to Spain in 2013 and played one season with Barcelona. “We played a U15 tournament in Madrid, and he was already a big known star. He almost got a triple-double against us. We talked after the game and he wished me good luck. It was crazy how destiny put as together after that.”
When asked when he knew that Doncic would be something special, Radoncic offered up: “Ever since I came to Real Madrid I knew he was something special. He was already playing with ease against senior guys while being only 15. So all of us were looking at him like something out of this world.”
Radoncic is not surprised at all with how Doncic is wowing fans in the NBA.
“I always said that he is gonna be unstoppable there,” he said. “A lot of people said that he can’t play in the NBA, but he is actually dominating it at an All-Star level. I love how he has been able to play against pressure, against all odds, and haters. But he still has a lot to say.”
Radoncic also said he learned a lot with his front row seat watching Doncic do his thing for Madrid.
“I learned that nothing is impossible. And I think he proved that. Watching him play with such a confidence makes me work harder and want to play at that level. He will always be a great example for me and for everybody, that you can do anything, it doesn’t matter the circumstances.”
Travels early in life
Radoncic was actually born in Giessen, Germany, where his father played handball. The family - Radoncic’s mother played volleyball - moved to Spain when Dino was 5 years old. And the move to Serbia came in 2007. But basketball was always there for Dino.
“Since I was very little I was running in the house with an Allen Iverson jersey and dunking on a small basket. So I would say basketball was always in my blood,” he said.
Radoncic played football first but was so much taller than everyone else on the pitch that he felt great when he moved to the hardcourt.
The family lived in Zrenjanin, which is located closer to Novi Sad than Belgrade. And he remembers one match-up in his early basketball days very well.
“My city is near Novi Sad so we were playing a VIBA League there, and there was a team from Bijeljina (Bosnia and Herzegovina) where Borisa Simanic was playing, so I remember him very good. He scored 50 on us, very easy. So he was the one that left a big impression on me.”
Not all good experiences
Radoncic and Simanic would actually cross paths later at the Adidas Next Generation Finals in May 2016 in Berlin. Simanic was playing for Crvena Zvezda and facing Radoncic and Madrid in the final group stage game with a spot in the ANGT Championship Game at stake. Simanic picked up 19 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 7 blocks in the 79-69 Zvezda win with Radoncic collecting 16 points.
The ANGT Finals was not a spot for good memories for Radoncic - though he was named MVP of the ANGT Coin event in 2017. At the ANGT Finals that year, Radoncic and Madrid were leading Mega Bemax Belgrade by 19 points but ended up losing 75-65 in the first game of the group stage which cost Madrid a chance to reach the Championship Game.
“That was a very tough loss for me and the whole team,” said Radoncic, who had 22 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in the loss. “I still can’t explain what happened to us in that moment. Individually, being selected for the All-Tournament Team of that tournament was a very big thing for me. I knew that I was capable of doing it so I wanted to carry my team to win that. Unfortunately, we lost, but it was a great learning experience for everybody.”
One of Radoncic’s teammates on that 2017 team was Carlos Unanue, now his teammate with Murcia, where the duo are also joined by Emanuel Cate.
“It was great to see them here. When you come to a new team it's always great to see some familiar faces, faces you already know how to talk to. So they both helped my transition to be easier,” Radoncic said.
His beginnings in Murcia also included working again with his former coach in Madrid’s youth ranks, Javier Juarez.
“Javi Juarez was an important part of my career. We kind of have the same winning character and mentality, so we really had a great bond. After my junior year finished I was looking forward to playing for him again, and when I saw the opportunity, I didn’t have to think about it at all,” Radoncic said.
The new Murcia player was a bit saddened about Juarez’s firing in late January.
“I was feeling bad of course. I was thinking about what I could have done better to help him. Javi is a great young coach and it was only his first club in the ACB. Life sometimes puts obstacles in front of you and tough situations, but I believe he will come back stronger and he will succeed,” Radoncic said. “He is also a great person, so even when he is not my coach, he is advising me and trying to help me.”
Radoncic at the same time knows Murcia’s new coach Sito Alonso will help him get better as well, especially knowing that he coached for many years at Joventut Badalona and helped shape the likes of Rudy Fernandez and Ricky Rubio.
“Sito is a great person and coach: I know I am going to improve a lot with him. All of the players believe in him a lot as he believes in us, and I think we are creating a great bond together. We are going to pass through this tough situation by working day by day, and being together.”
National team decision
Another big date for Radoncic was August 31, 2016. That was Montenegro’s first qualifying game for the FIBA EuroBasket 2017 against Slovakia. And Radoncic picked up 3 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in the game in Podgorica - at just 17 years old.
“Being just 17 years old, for me it was incredible to debut with national team, and even more to score. I felt great helping my national team reach the goal,” said Radoncic, who ended up averaging 5.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 steals in six qualifying games.
“MONTENEGRO IS THE COUNTRY OF MY FAMILY, MY ROOTS, WHERE MY BLOOD CAME FROM, SO IT WAS AN EASY CHOICE. AND THEIR PROJECT AND THOUGHTS ABOUT ME WERE ALSO GREAT.”
Not only was it his first game for the senior national team, it was also the end of all the talk about for which country Radoncic would play. Having never played internationally in the youth ranks, Radoncic debated about playing for the home country of his father Montenegro, his own birth country Germany or the country where he grew up Serbia.
“Montenegro is the country of my family, my roots, where my blood came from, so it was an easy choice. And their project and thoughts about me were also great,” reasoned Radoncic.
Montenegro played at EuroBasket 2017 and the veteran coach Bogdan Tanjevic, who has a history of giving young players chances, brought the 18-year-old Radoncic with him to Romania. And Montenegro’s first game was against Spain - a team Radoncic knew well from him playing in the country.
“It was a crazy experience playing against that strong Spanish team, but what left me a great memory was playing against Pau Gasol. I even wanted to ask him for an autograph after the game but as we lost by 39, it was not the best moment,” said Radoncic, who played 11 minutes and had 1 assist and 1 steal.
Dino Radoncic facing Spain at the FIBA EuroBasket 2017
Radoncic then played 24 minutes and scored 13 points against Romania and had 2 points, 2 rebounds and 2 steals in 17 minutes against Latvia.
“The memories are good, but I am still not happy with some things. The game against Romania was just a reminder of what i can do at such a young age,” he said.
“Greatest and happiest loss”
Radoncic also had a chance to play in two windows during the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 European Qualifiers, including the last window last month. And he played 33 seconds of Montenegro’s 80-74 loss at home to Latvia, which was enough to book the country’s first ticket to the FIBA World Cup as they could not afford an eight-point loss.
“It's the greatest and happiest loss in my career. Latvia is such a great team, and they came to Podgorica with five EuroLeague players. I think we did a great job of containing them from winning by more than eight points. It was a very tough game but we got through the tough moments, and in the end, qualifying is what matters.”
When asked about the celebrations in the Montenegro capital after the game, Radoncic said: “The celebration in Podgorica was absolutely crazy. It's the first time this country qualified for the World Cup since its independence in 2006, so the people were fired up and crazy. It was really something special. I hope we can celebrate more things in the near future.”
Even though he only played in three games in the European Qualifiers - and totalled 0 points, 5 rebounds and 1 assist in 20 minutes - Radoncic feels honored to have helped Montenegro book their ticket for China this summer.
“It's been an honor to help this country qualify. I tried to help my team as best as I could do it, and i think i did a great job overall. But still, I am never satisfied, and I think that in future I will be more useful to this national team.”
Tough match-up with Antwerp
But before that, Radoncic wants to help Murcia get through its Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde season - with a 6-15 record to rank second-to-last in the ACB and a first place 13-1 mark in Group A in the Basketball Champions League.
Radoncic has done well in the jump up to a bigger role in a pan-European competition.
“ANTWERP IS A GREAT TEAM, A VERY TOUGH TEAM, AND WE KNOW THAT IT'S GOING TO BE A TOUGH MATCH-UP. WE CAN'T WAIT TO START THE PLAYOFFS AND SHOW WHAT WE ARE CAPABLE OF.”
“From what I've seen until now, the BCL is a great organized league with good and strong teams. I think we had a great run in the group, but I want us to continue growing, and I hope we can reach Final Four and win it. It would be a great achievement,” Radoncic said.
But the road to the Final Four is long and starts off with a very difficult Round of 16 match-up with Telenet Giants Antwerp.
“Antwerp is a great team, a very tough team, and we know that it’s going to be a tough match-up. We can’t wait to start the playoffs and show what we are capable of.”
For Radoncic, a chance to shine in the playoffs would be a logical progression as he takes the next step in his already-successful young career.
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