By Antonis Stroggylakis/ email@example.com
While Valencia forward/center and Minnesota Timberwolves stash Bojan Dubljevic once again appears in lists of top stashed players who could potentially make the jump to NBA next summer, he doesn’t seem really sold on the idea of leaving Europe.
“NBA isn’t on my mind. Every player has a dream to play in the NBA. It’s not my dream. My dream is to play for a big club. For me, Valencia is the biggest club and I want to stay in Valencia,” Dubljevic told Eurohoops.
The Montenegrin player has been making a name for himself these past years mostly thanks to his plethoric offensive talent and ability to potently threaten the basket equally well from any area of the floor, be it by using his strength and quality at the low post or his shooting efficiency that extends to the 3-point line.
It’s an arsenal that could make Dubljevic’s case quite appealing to Timberwolves, that selected him with the 59th overall pick back in 2013. But his heart is beating pure “Orange”.
“This is my club. Valencia gave me everything. I will try to stay here as long as possible,” Dubljevic added.
This is the 26-year-old big guy’s sixth season in Valencia, the first club he ever played outside of Montenegro. He immediately became a hit with the “Taronja” in his debut campaign, winning the 2013 EuroCup Rising Star trophy thanks to the 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game he finished the season with.
Since then, Dubljevic had to make extra room in his trophy case for many more EuroCup individual awards, while helping his team win the title in 2014. These accomplishments were pretty, sure, but just a prelude to the crowning moment that took place last season. A historic achievement not only for himself but for the Valencia organization as well.
Against all odds and predictions, Valencia won the 2017 Spanish League title by not simply beating, but routing the defending champions, powerhouse Real Madrid 3-1 in the Finals. Dubljevic won MVP honors after notching 13.5 points plus 7.2 rebounds over the four games of the title series to lead his team to the championship title for the first time in the history of the franchise.
“We surprised everyone by winning the ACB title. But this year? It will be really-really hard to repeat that,” Dubljevic admitted to Eurohoops. “The Spanish League is hard. Every team can beat anyone. But, of course, will we fight for winning the title. We need to fight for it and to return in EuroLeague. I think we need to play in EuroLeague.”
A prime example of the challenges that ACB competitions hold, is definitely the defeat that Valencia suffered to Iberostar Tenerife last week in the Copa Del Rey quarterfinal. You can easily call file it under “major upsets” if you take into account that Tenerife is ninth in the Liga Endesa standings while Valencia holds the second spot.
Following this disappointing early elimination, Valencia head coach Txus Vidorreta described his team’s performance in that game as … “sh—t”. Valencia guard Erick Green voiced his agreement with this statement when asked by Eurohoops about it.
Although Valencia lost to Olympiacos in Piraeus last night (22/2), when our conversation took place, Dubljevic believed that his squad showed a solid reaction by making a competitive argument in the home court of the Greek powerhouse.
“Well, we came here to prove that we are not that….sh–t. We did that,” Dubljevic said to Eurohoops. “We played against one of the best teams in Europe, maybe in the hardest court in Europe. Considering how we entered the game we didn’t expect to react that well. But we did. We fought until the end but it’s nearly impossible to beat Olympiacos at their home. Still, it was incredible that we were competitive for 39 minutes.”
When Valencia made it 68-67 with three minutes remaining, three-time EuroLeague champion and Final Four MVP Vassilis Spanoulis took matters into his hands with seven points in a row that pretty much decided the outcome.
Spanoulis finished with a season-high 25 points plus 9 assists. Not a surprise according to Dubljevic but still an admirable display.
“He (Spanoulis) is the best player in Europe for sure. He’s been one of the best players in Europe all his career. Tonight he just showed what he can do. He had confidence and now he’s going to be top until the end of the season.”
The defeat to Olympiacos dropped Valencia to an 8 – 15 record in EuroLeague. The Spanish team struggled through many injury problems throughout the season and rarely, if not ever, played at full strength.
Dubljevic himself missed five EuroLeague games this season. He was absent in three matches during the first leg due to problems stemming from tendonitis that has been bothering him since the 2017 EuroBasket. An ankle sprain in January was the reason he stayed out in two games the previous month.
“We played a lot of games without point guards. Then there was me, Tibor (Pleiss). Many of our players have been injured. The injury problems happen because we didn’t have enough rest because of our summer duties with the national teams.”
Bojan Dubljevic has indeed been playing non-stop these last years since he spent the two previous summers playing with the Montenegrin national team. In 2016 he helped them advance to the EuroBasket 2017 and last year, he was present in the arenas of Cluj, Romania where his country faced such national teams as Spain or Croatia in Group C.
“This is my second year without rest and it’s a big problem. We need to stay healthy. Now we won’t have an ACB game so we have some time to rest a little and practice more in order to find our form.”
Montenegro is facing Slovenia tonight (23/2) in Podgorica for the World Cup Qualifiers. Bojan Dubljevic, among the elite Montenegrin ballers right now, is forced to the role of a distant viewer since he won’t manage to join his national team due to his obligations with Valencia.
“It’s really bad. They play tomorrow (23/2). It’s really hard to just watch the game at home, on TV. I wish them luck and to get the win.”