Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic was the best player at the European Basketball championships this summer.
Dragic led Slovenia to a 9-0 record and its first ever European title, averaging team highs of 22.6 points and 5.1 assists. He was named the tournament’s MVP.
But the 31-year-old Dragic will be passing the torch to a fellow countryman, a teenager, who has become a household name in Europe and, likely, soon far beyond those borders.
Luka Doncic is an 18-year-old prodigy who averaged 14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists while teaming with Dragic, his mentor, to bring Slovenia the championship. He is 6-foot-8, 228 pounds and could be in the conversation as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft.
And few know Doncic like Dragic, who not only played with him this summer but also was a teammate of Doncic’s father, Sasa, 10 years ago while playing in Slovenia on a team in which young Luka was the ball boy. Dragic and Sasa played together for three years.
“Even at that age you could see he had a great feeling for the ball like his dad,” Dragic told ESPN before scoring 35 points to lead Slovenia to a 93-85 victory over Serbia in the championship game Sunday. Dragic was named the tournament’s MVP.
“He would always sit under the basket. Every time at halftime when we came out from the locker room he would always be shooting the ball. I always have this memory.”
Doncic is a combo guard with skills and a knowledge of the game that has always far exceeded his age. He has dominated leagues in Europe since he was 8-years-old, most often against players much older, and most recently has honed his game while playing for powerhouse Real Madrid in Spain.
Doncic’s coming out party was this summer’s tournament, which provided the highest level of competition in his young career. His signature game was Slovenia’s quarterfinals win over Latvia and Kristaps Porzingis when he scored 27 points. In the semifinals against a loaded Spain team with NBA players like Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Ricky Rubio, he had 11 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in Slovenia’s upset win.
Doncic left Sunday’s final in the third quarter after spraining his ankle. He finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
“I’ve seen a lot of players, they get hyped and then they kind of lose control,” Dragic said. “It gets in their heads. In a few years you don’t even hear from them anymore. I don’t think that’s going to happen with Luka.”