Goran Dragic and the Slovenian national team overcame long odds to win the EuroBasket championships this summer.
Now Dragic sees a parallel to his NBA team, the Miami Heat.
“Nobody gave us a chance, the Slovenian national team,” Dragic said today on a conference call from Slovenia with Heat media. “Nobody is going to give us chance at Miami. But I always believe, why not?
Dragic became an international sensation during the last month, leading Slovenia to its first championship and the first gold medal in any team sport in the country’s history. Slovenia finished 9-0 and Dragic was named the tournament MVP while averaging 22.6 points and 5.1 assists. He scored 35 points in the Gold Medal game victory over Serbia, a game, that according to Dragic, was watched by 94 percent of the country’s two million residents.
Slovenia’s previous highest finish was fourth in 2009.
“As soon as we won the finals all the burden from my shoulders fell down,” said Dragic, who said about 25,000 fans braved a rainy day for a victory parade.
“I worked hard. I practiced hard. With all my body, with all my mind I was all in.”
Throughout the tournament, which started Aug. 31, Dragic kept thinking about something coach Erik Spoelstra told the Heat before last season.
“At the beginning of the season Spo was saying winning a title is tough, not physically tough, but even mentally tough. Now I fully understand what he means,” Dragic said.
“So much work but the main focus is in your head. You need to go through all those emotions when you are feeling bad, when you are good. When it’s tough times, when it’s good times. This is probably one of the toughest roads in my career.”
Dragic, 31, announced last spring he would be retiring from his national team after this summer and said today this is the perfect way to go out.
But, he said some “crazy people” are trying make his retirement a political issue and put it to a referendum that he continues playing.
“I said many, many times I’m officially retired from the national team,” he said.
Now, Dragic will return to South Florida on Sunday and hit the court Tuesday at Florida Atlantic University for the start of training camp, jumping right into the long, arduous NBA season. In the past, he said playing internationally during the summer has benefited him when it came to returning to prepare for the NBA season.
Something he still believes even if he may need more time to recover in the next few weeks as his teammates are huffing and puffing through four days of two-a-days, a scrimmage on Saturday and six preseason games starting Oct. 1.
“Nothing to worry about,” said Dragic, despite having to leave Sunday’s gold-medal game in the second half because of cramps.
“I’m going to be ready for training camp.”
President Pat Riley was asked on Thursday about the team allowing Dragic to ease his way into camp and said it’s up to Spoelstra. Riley, though, hinted that Dragic’s time on the court, at least early, could be limited.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that his teammates would understand after what he’s done. … that he might need a little bit of rest right now,” Riley said.
Even Dragic’s teammates appear ready to make sure their leader does not overdue it. Power forward James Johnson said Dragic isn’t going to want to rest and that “sometimes you have to save a man from himself.”
Dragic laughed when informed about what Johnson said but he did not disagree.
“What J.J. said is right,” Dragic said. “If you ask me I can start practicing twice a day. I had enough rest. I think I am going in fresh to training camp.”
Dragic was in his homeland during free agency but kept up on the Heat’s offseason moves. He even became involved in the recruitment of Gordan Hayward, face timing him when the Heat met with the free-agent forward.
As it turned out, Hayward signed with Boston. The Heat recovered by re-signing Johnson, guard Dion Waiters, bringing back guard Wayne Ellington and adding forward Kelly Olynyk.
“When I found out we signed Dion, JJ, Wayne and added a couple of pieces. … it was great,” Dragic said.
“I feel like with this team we can do something special, that we already demonstrated last year. I’m hoping this year we’re going to be healthy at the beginning of the season and then we can show what we can do.”