by Doruk Karaca / firstname.lastname@example.org
How many worldwide known athletes can a country with 2 million people hold? Slovenian athletes have been very successful in a lot of fields. Many basketball players of the country have ‘rocked’ the world.
Goran Dragic and Luka Doncic might be topping that list for a long time but numerous new players are on their way. One of those young players is 2005-born player Jan Vide. Vide plays for Real Madrid and he was the leader of the Slovenian National Team in the FIBAU17 World Cup. The young prospect also won the scoring title in that tournament.
He talked to Eurohoops about his career and achievements so far, Doncic changing Slovenian basketball for the better, and more.
First of all, thank you for accepting my invitation. You’ve been very busy this year so far. How are you feeling?
I feel amazing. The whole season was very long. Especially now after the FIBA U17 World Cup, I realize how physically challenging everything was. We played 7 games in 10 days. It was also hard mentally, a lot of things were going on. The games, public reactions and all the emotions. In general, this season was an amazing experience for me.
We’ll get back to the FIBAU17 World Cup but first, I’m wondering what your childhood and your first memories of playing basketball were like.
I first started playing football in my hometown. Almost everyone starts with football in my town. My father was a basketball player and we have a small basketball court outside my house. He used to watch basketball games a lot, the Slovenian League and other competitions. I used to join him and we started watching the games together. In school, there were practices for kids and after I went there, I enjoyed it so much. We had an amazing coach. It wasn’t like a practice, we were hanging out with other kids, shooting the ball and having fun. When I was 9, I joined a club that is very popular for the kids around here, Helios. And it got more serious after that.
Another Slovenian player and your friend Urban Klavzar also played for Helios. After he was recruited by Real Madrid, you followed him one year later. The team and Slovenian basketball must be doing a lot of things right. How challenging was the competition in Slovenia?
Urban’s home in Slovenia is three houses away from mine, so we were almost neighbors. I’ve known him all my childhood. Now it’s going to be really hard for me because he’ll no longer play for Real Madrid. I’m going to be without Urban for the first time. We first started playing for different schools since our schools were different, we were playing against each other. Then, we were teammates in Helios and Real Madrid. Basketball is the number one sport in Slovenia. Especially after EuroBasket 2017, the whole country went crazy. If you compare the practicing levels of Real Madrid and Helios, I can say that they are the same. Of course, Real Madrid has everything and a really good facility but the basketball level in Slovenia is impressive. We are a nation with only two million people and this makes things a little bit harder to grow. It’s hard to find and recruit people from some villages but the competition level is still high. We have Helios, Cedevita Olimpija is also doing an amazing job here. It’s tough competition.
Surely, there are a lot of people that helped you grow early in your early career. I’ve heard the name of the coach Gasper Papez, specifically. How important was he for you?
He was not just a coach. He was like a mentor to me. He used to encourage me in school, he needed to know everything. He would know what I eat, and how my relationship was with my friends and teammates. Having him with me was amazing. He didn’t just teach me how to be a basketball player, he showed me how to be a good person. In my last year playing for Helios, I remember after our morning practice, he would drop me off at school and after school, he would pick me up to head to the afternoon practice. During Covid, Urban and I practiced with him all summer. He is an amazing coach, we had really special moments together.
Moving to another country is not easy for everyone, especially for young people. How was the recruiting and adaptation process for you in Madrid, where the population is more than Slovenia as a whole?
In Madrid, one street might have more population than half of Slovenia. It all started in 2018, some scouts sent me messages and I went there for a four-day tryout. They told me that they will not recruit me for the next season but they want me to play for them in tournaments. At first, I was really upset with myself because I thought that they would not take me. I played two tournaments with Real Madrid, one of them was in Barcelona and the other one was Mini Copa in Madrid which we won. After that, they were more interested in me. I had one year to prepare myself for living in Madrid. Dan Duscak, Urban Klavzar and some Serbian guys were also there and they helped me a lot. Moving from a town where 30 thousand people live in to a city with six million people is different. As I said, I prepared myself during my last year in Slovenia. I started to learn Spanish and practiced speaking, and also reading a lot of things about Spanish culture. Now, my Spanish is good and it’s really important since not everyone speaks English really well in Spain.
You’ve participated in three different Adidas Next Generation Tournaments as a player of Real Madrid. One of them was in your hometown, Ljubljana. This time, you were the host of your coaches and teammates. What do you want to say about this experience?
Everyone was asking questions like “What is Ljubljana? Where is it?” And when we came there, I was like their tour guide. We stayed in a hotel most of the time but those days were really special. My friends from home were all eager to come to the games. Some of my best friends prepared banners like “Go Jan!”. They were like home games to me. I remember the game against Zalgiris. We were up two points and I committed a foul on a player that was shooting a three-pointer. He was going to shoot three free throws for the win. The whole crowd went crazy for him to miss those shots, my friends were booing from the stands. Thank god he missed two of them and we won. It’s a memory to be remembered.
FIBA U16 European Challengers was held in different places and the system was a little bit different because of Covid. You’ve had amazing games in that tournament, leading your team and winning the MVP award. We can give examples like the game against Turkey (31 points) and despite the loss, the game against Serbia (38 points). What has changed for you after that tournament?
Man, it changed a lot. I showed myself in Europe. Even though I won an ANGT with Madrid, I was two years younger than the other guys so I didn’t have a leading role. The other players had much more experience than I did. In FIBAU16 European Challengers, I was the leader of my national team. We did an amazing job as a team, we performed really well against Israel, Turkey and Serbia. Two teams would go to the World Cup from that group and we managed to pull it off. It was amazing.
You play with a lot of future stars in Real Madrid and your role in the Slovenian national team is a little bit different as you just mentioned. How can you compare playing for Real Madrid and the Slovenian national team?
It’s definitely different. Playing for Slovenia, I averaged almost 24 shots a game, some of them were good, and some of them were bad. The thing is that my teammates trusted me to take the bigger responsibility in the offense. They believed in me all the time. Playing for Real Madrid, as you said there are many players that will probably have a good basketball career and they need to take shots too. It’s good for me to experience both because I can face anything in the future.
In the 2022 summer, while your Slovenian teammates gathered for the preparation of the FIBA U17 World Cup, you went to Milan for Basketball Without Borders alongside a lot of young prospects. These camps are always important for a player’s resume. What do you think about the generation of 2005 and what have you learned in the camp?
Well, the generation of 2005, looks a little bit scary. I remember when I first arrived there, I was like “Damn.” If you are a player of Real Madrid, you have a name and everybody knows which team you play for but you need to prove yourself to them. In the camp, at first, I was a little scared because everybody looked so tough. For example, the MVP of the FIBA U17 World Cup Izan Almansa was there and the other players were amazing as well. It was a great experience for me. Some NBA coaches were there and Danilo Gallinari was my team’s coach. Kemba Walker was also there. That dude is so fast, I was like “Wow”. They showed me a lot of things but the most interesting thing to learn was their approach to the game. NBA coaches want you to be the best version of yourself. They do the right things for you to be on your best performance as much as possible. They pushed me a lot and helped me play my own game. I like fast offenses, transition basketball, and having an open space for one-on-one situations. I really enjoyed playing basketball during the Basketball Without Borders camp.
You’ve finished the FIBAU17 World Cup in 7th place. You won the scoring title as you achieved many times in many organizations. How was the tournament for you and for Slovenia? How do you evaluate your performance?
Just to be participating in that tournament was amazing. It was a great honor and we were just happy to be present before anything else. We didn’t have a lot of expectations since we are still a small nation. The tournament was really hard for me both physically and mentally. Playing seven games in ten days and actively playing 30 minutes each game… Having a bad game, for example, the ones against the USA and France, the next day there is another game and you don’t know what to do. Should you think about the last game and evaluate it or should you think about the next game and move on? It was really tough but the whole team did an amazing job, all my teammates and coaches were incredible. Playing in Slovenian leagues and coming to the World Cup brings a lot of differences but they managed it perfectly. When we won the game against Argentina, we knew we were in the top 8. It’s a huge success. Personally, I had good games but my shooting percentage was around 30%. I can do much better than that. Shooting 24 shots a game is also different, my teammates trust me and I need to shoot a lot of shots. I watched the games later and when I see some of my shot selections, I was like “Oh, what have I done” because some of them were bad shots. The other thing is that it didn’t stop me, I kept playing hard. My ego is high and I always think that I’m going to make those shots. I wanted to help my team and I want to win every time I step onto a basketball court. I trust myself so much but in this tournament, my percentage was not good. Positively, I fought a lot with the team and we all made each other better with our energy. I was really proud of myself that I managed to play all seven games at the maximum level. Keeping your energy and getting your head in the game is not always easy in these kinds of tournaments. Playing 30 minutes against the best national teams is hard.
Drawing fouls is one of the most important qualities for many players around the world and you are one of the best among the players around your age. Sometimes, players are criticized for being good at it and it causes a lot of discussions, especially in the NBA. Do you work on it, if you do, how does a player work on drawing fouls or is it an instinct that comes naturally?
I was a little bit annoyed about that in the tournament. In the first four games, I was averaging ten free throws a game. In the FIBA U16 European Challengers, the average number was more. If you are constantly attacking and you have enough aggression, it comes naturally. I’m not doing anything about it. Some guys do different things to show the fouls but I’m not like that. I’m just attacking and when I’m in mid-air, I look for the contact.
What aspects of your game are you planning to focus on more in your individual practices?
I want to work on my shooting abilities. I want to have a faster release and work on shooting mechanics and stuff to feel more comfortable, especially behind the three-point line. The other thing I want to work on is being more aggressive on defense. I want to be a better defender. I also don’t want to rely so much on floaters in my offense, I’ll try different things. But I’m not worrying so much since I believe it will come naturally as I play more games and gain more experience.
You’re from Ljubljana, Slovenia. You are a player of Real Madrid and you are considered one of the best young prospects. So, there are a lot of similarities in that sense between you and Luka Doncic even though your playing styles are not so similar. Have you had a chance to talk to him?
Not yet, I hope we’ll get the chance to meet in the future. Luka is like the president in Slovenia. Everybody knows him. It’s amazing what he did so far. To be honest, without Luka, I would not be playing for Real Madrid. He opened the path for not just me, but the whole nation. Before him, nobody was paying attention to Slovenian basketball but after they saw Luka, they knew they could find more talented players from there. I need to thank him for that. I don’t even know what to say about him cause the love for him in my country is so different. He is amazing both as a player and as a person. I get a lot of comparisons about that cause as you said, our stories are similar so far. Let’s be real, Luka is one in a million, so I want to focus on myself and create my own name. As you said, our playing styles are not so similar, I believe my game is more similar to Goran Dragic. He is a bit faster and attacking the rim more, as I do.
Do you have a special reason for wearing number 7?
Actually no, I’ve been wearing 7 since I first started playing basketball. Mostly it was because of Cristiano Ronaldo. I am a huge football fan. Then, I started wearing it in Helios and the national team. My favorite football team is also Real Madrid. Even before when I joined the team, me and my father went to two football games of Real Madrid, probably when I was 10 years old.
Do you consider any players as your idols or role models?
The player I love the most is probably Kyrie Irving because of his creativity. He impresses me a lot when I watch him play. He wows me every time. His creativity in a one-on-one is crazy. How he handles the pressure in mid-air and how he dribbles with perfect fundamentals is just amazing. His game style is my favorite. When it comes to work ethic and mentality, it’s definitely Kobe Bryant. Among European players, I still love Milos Teodosic. He is different. If you look at Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic and Teodosic. They all are playing with pure talent, they do not play fast, they are not very athletic, they are just enjoying playing basketball and it’s mesmerizing to watch. Milos Teodosic’s passes and assists are incredible.
What are your short and long-term goals?
I’m going step by step. I’m going to rest a little while, then I will start practicing for the next season. I have another year with Real Madrid. Before coming to Madrid, my goal was to practice and play with the first team so I hope it happens next season. My goal is to stay in Europe for now, I want to develop my game in Europe. If your goal is not playing in the NBA, you are not a basketball player. The ultimate goal is of course the NBA but I want to develop in Europe at the highest possible level.
What are your hobbies? What do you like to do when you don’t play basketball?
I love hanging out with my friends. Besides playing basketball, playing football is my favorite hobby. We players do not have much time as we practice a lot and spend most of our time with basketball. I love spending time with my family. My sister is the most important thing to me, so I love spending time with her.