By Antonis Stroggylakis/ email@example.com
The dust of the EuroBasket 2017 is now settled but Dario Saric still looked affected by a tournament gone wrong for the Croatian national team.
Despite entering the European championship with high ambitions and dreams of a podium spot, Croatia lost in a nearly “hands down” manner to Russia in the Round of 16, suffering an early and utterly disappointing elimination.
“It’s hard to talk about it. We lost to a better team,” Saric told Eurohoops. “We didn’t show character and sometimes it’s that simple. Everybody has something to say about me obviously. Some comments are done in a positive way and others in a negative manner. I’m putting that aside for now. I am better than what I showed in that game (vs Russia).”
We caught up with Dario in the locker rooms of “Peace and Friendship” arena in Piraeus, Greece, following the game held in honor of Dusan Ivkovic. The Serbian coach was officially named a “EuroLeague legend” during an exhibition match between Olympiacos, the team with which he won his two EuroLeague crowns (1997 & 2012) and a special selection squad called “Dusan Ivkovic Stars”, compiled by players Duda coached throughout his career. Saric was among the latter.
Back in 2014, Saric began to make his first major steps at a high basketball level with Ivkovic’s guidance illuminating his path. He spent two seasons with Anadolu Efes, prior to joining Philadelphia 76ers, and under the Serb’s tutelage, he transformed from a super-prospect to an elite EuroLeague forward, 100% ready for the NBA challenge.
When the invitation came for him to participate in the game where Ivkovic would be honored for his EuroLeague accomplishments, he simply couldn’t say no.
“For me, Dusan Ivkovic means a lot. He helped me a lot in my career. He showed me what real basketball is. What men’s basketball is. What EuroLeague basketball is. He was kind of my basketball father. I can say that. Last season I added little pieces of him and what he taught me. How he pushed me to play in the practice and how he pushed me to play in the game. I think last season I showed bits and pieces about that while in the Sixers.”
2016-2017 had its fair share of ups and downs for Saric, particularly in the beginning, but ultimately his talent took over and his work eagerness paid off. He averaged 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists during 26.3 minutes per game, numbers that booked him a spot in the All-Rookie First Team. He particularly flourished in the second half of the season when he was promoted to a starter following Ersan Ilyasova’s trade to the Atlanta Hawks. He got more minutes, increased responsibilities and an upgraded role within the team’s systems, making the most out of this opportunity as his post All-Star break numbers (20 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game) testify.
“The Homie”, as his fans like to call him, attributes his performances also to the camaraderie built among the Sixers players, an aspect he believes it is often reflected on the floor.
“When you trust each other, when you have that particular feeling, it just makes it so much easier to accomplish things and perform within a team. That’s what I’m seeing in Philadelphia. We have good chemistry between us as people. Good humor as well. We frequently joke with each other. You know, in NBA sometimes people don’t hang out off the court like in Europe. In Europe, it’s more common to hang out with your teammates. But we’re good friends. And when we travel for away games we hang out a lot. It’s a really good thing. It’s a first step towards doing something good. It’s all about people. Trusting each other and believing in each other.”
And what will the new season bring for the Sixers? According to Saric, the raw material for a playoff-caliber squad is right there. It just needs to be molded into a strong unit. Which will be injury-free (for a change).
“I don’t want to talk about accomplishing something… amazing. Of course, we have a team for the playoffs. On paper,” Saric admits to Eurohoops. “But there are lots of factors at play. We must be healthy, first of all. Then everything should work on the court. You might have 12 good players but it doesn’t mean anything if they can’t work together on the floor. It’s important to find a chemistry among the players, to keep all players happy. Coach Brett Brown can do that. I hope we’re going to have a great season.”