Colceag's unusual path to basketball, BCL chance with Cluj
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 the 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.
CLUJ-NAPOCA (Romania) - Millions of youngsters around the world dream of making it to the NBA and spend their free time playing NBA2K. Luca Colceag's story however is a bit different. The popular video game was actually his introduction to basketball - and his rapid rise has him getting a chance to develop in the Basketball Champions League.
Colceag is one of five players born 2003 or later on U-BT Cluj Napoca's roster for the BCL. And the 18-year-old has played in all five of Cluj's BCL games thus far, going scoreless but collecting 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals in a combined 23 minutes.
"I feel pretty lucky that I'm a part of this story and that I’m able to contribute to it," Colceag said of Cluj becoming the first Romanian team to make it to the BCL.
And Cluj have performed well, winning four of their five games in Group G and having already locked up a spot in at least the Play-In series.
"It's a really unique experience and because of our results that makes this experience even better," said Colceag, who did score 2 points against Peristeri in the BCL Qualifiers and also grabbed 3 rebounds in 13 minutes of action in the qualification campaign.
Despite playing in the Qualifiers, Colceag actually was surprised when Cluj head coach Mihai Silvasan sent him into the team's Regular Season opener against Darussafaka.
"I was on the bench and I was talking with (fellow 2003-born talent Stefan) Grasu about a play that just happened and after that I heard my name," he said about his debut with 1:04 minutes left in the first quarter. "At first, I looked at the bench to check if we have another Luca, and then I realized it's me and I will be going in. Before checking in I completely forgot about everything else and I was just ready to ball."
The idea of Colceag looking around for someone else named Luca fits in with his whole story.
Football playing father and son
Colceag's father Sorin Colceag played football for nearly two decades as a goalkeeper, making Romania's U21 national team and playing abroad in Croatia, Belgium, Mexico, Czech Republic and Greece before becoming a coach.
Luca took up the game when he was 4 years old, and played football for nine years as a striker and eventually center back. He was even selected for a Romanian youth national team. As most youngsters, the young Luca and some of his football teammates would sit around and play video games. Colceag would usually play FIFA and Call of Duty and his favorite team was Barcelona and his favorite player Neymar. But one day when he was 13, the young football players decided to try something new.
"Me and some teammates from football decided to try NBA 2K16, and after I got it and played, I just felt in love with the game," he remembered. "That's the thing that really got me into this sport."
Mother there to help
Just because Colceag went from the pitch to the hardwood didn't mean he didn't have parental guidance to help him in the game. Luca's mother Daniela Colceag played for the Romania senior women's national team for a number years and even helped them reach the FIBA Women's EuroBasket in 2001. She played for among other teams Galatasaray and also played for Olimpia Bucharest in the FIBA Women's EuroCup Women in 2006-07 as a 36-year-old.
"She was excited and was ready from the start to help me develop," Luca said about his basketball relationship with his mother. "My mom helped me from the first day. After every game and every practice she was telling me what I did wrong and on what I should improve. She has a very big role in my success."
National team nomination
Luca's improvement has not gone loss on the leaders of the Romanian basketball federation as he was nominated for the senior team for the FIBA EuroBasket 2025 Pre-Qualifiers last month.
"I think we had an away game and we were in Targu Jiu when me and Grasu found out about it. I was really happy because it was a validation of my work," Colceag said.
He did not get into the game against Luxembourg but he gained a lot from his first experience with the senior team.
"I learned that we should treat every single game like it's our last one," he said about the game, which Romania won 73-70 on the road.
Colceag appreciated the fact that the best players in the country welcomed him into the team, especially the core generation of Emanuel Cate, Bogdan Nicolescu, Tudor Gheorghe and Rares Uta.
"It was nice. All four of them are really fun and amazing guys. They kind of took care of me because I was the youngest," he said.
That quartet was all born in 1997 while Colceag and Grasu are both from the 2003 generation and are a big part of the country's future.
"It feels great, and I really think that we can lift Romania a little bit in the world of basketball," he said.
Double national team summer
Colceag's nomination to the senior team came after he spent last summer representing Romania twice at the youth ranks - at the FIBA U20 European Challengers in Hungary and the FIBA U18 European Challengers in Slovakia.
Colceag turned 18 years old shortly before the U20 event and averaged 10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.8 blocks for a Romania team that finished seventh in their Challenger including close losses to North Macedonia and Luxembourg.
"From those two games I learned that in close games you have to stay out of foul problem. Because in both games I wasn't able to help my team in the final minutes," he said.
Colceag collected 8.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.8 steals in the U18 tournament, where Romania went 2-2.
"I think that I learned to appreciate more these opportunities because now I'm not able to play at that category any more," he said.
Opportunity with champs
Speaking of opportunities, Colceag is happy to have the chances he has this season with Cluj. He joined the 2021 league champs after playing the previous two seasons with CSO Voluntari.
"At CSO Voluntari I didn't play many minutes. I don't why, and a lot of people don't know why. So it was a simple decision when Cluj called me this summer to join them," he said.
Colceag signed a one-year deal with Cluj as he currently is planning to leave for the United States for next season - for either college basketball or possibly the G-League.
"(Cluj) expects me just to help them as much as possible in the BCL and in the Romanian league," he said.
And as far as his expectations for himself this season, Colceag said: "The sky is the limit, so I pretty much am trying to get as good as possible by the end of this season."
While his minutes have been limited in the Basketball Champions League, Colceag is really helping the club domestically. He is averaging 6.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.8 blocks in nearly 24 minutes.
He played an even bigger role in the Romania Cup in late September - which he called the biggest highlight of his young career thus far.
In the two games versus Steaua Bucharest, he collected 10 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 5 blocks and followed that with 14 points and 3 rebounds.
"One of the blocks was on their center. He thought he had a mismatch, turned around and went up and I swatted the ball," he said.
Colceag is still new to the game, having only played it for the last five years. And he continually develops, though his shot is probably his strongest skill. But he also enjoys working as a rim protector.
"When I see someone drive to the rim, I just try to be there and contest as much as possible the shot," he said. "Over the years I have gotten the timing down for when I'm supposed to be there. Now it's just my confidence that I can block every shot."
When asked if there any player he watched because of their defense in general - and their shotblocking in specific - Colceag answer: "Giannis (Antetokounmpo) is a guy that I try to follow."
Besides watching Antetokounmpo's highlights, Colceag undoubtedly took that from playing NBA2K16 - back when he was a footballer just trying out something new.