By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
In our day and age, a European player signing in the NBA is not something unusual, no matter if he is a young prodigy, or a proven veteran on the courts, who may never been drafted. However the story of Damjan Rudez is some how unique.
After playing to a solid Spanish club like Zaragoza, but without being a marquee name or having any Euroleague presence, he got a three years guaranteed deal with a team which is among the contenders for the NBA title. It’s an impressive jump for the Croatian sharp shooter who isn’t bother by the fact that he almost had the chance to be a teammate of Lebron James in Cleveland. After all, as he says to Εurohoops: “Larry Bird was on the gym in my try out. Obviously he was satisfied from what he saw”.
As for the big challenge of the Croatian national team he is quite clear: His generation has to make something even bigger in order to escape the big shadow of the basketball legends his country produced in the past.
– Many European players had trouble adapting in the NBA. Do you feel ready for the challenge?
“I definitely feel ready for the challenge of playing in the NBA. I think it’s very different now than when I was 20 years old. I have 10 years of European and international experience. So, that is going to help me a lot. I’m aware that the transition is not easy for any European player. A period of adaptation is required, but I hope I will make the transition as quick as possible. I feel ready”.
– Indiana played last season in the Eastern finals. What can you add to the puzzle?
“I hope I will add shooting, something I am specialized in doing.. That’s why they brought me there and I hope to bring it on the table. I know Indiana has been very successful the last couple of years. This years I am hopping to reach all the goals which are set by the team. I hope I can contribute in a big way! Hopefully we will produce great results”.
– Your shooting ability is what makes you stand out. Have you worked out for one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game, Larry Bird?
“I had one work out before I signed for Indiana when I was there. Larry Bird was also there in the gym among 20 other people of the club watching my work out. I think I did pretty well because after all they did call me back and they did offer me a contract. So, I think I had a really good practice. I guess he was satisfied with what he saw”.
– What you should accomplish next season in order to feel personally successful in the NBA?
“Well, it’s hard to say what my personal goals are going to be, cause it’s my first season in the NBA. For a lot of players coming from Europe the first season wasn’t easy. I am hopping to play and really help the team. As for my team, the goal is an NBA championship! You know, the team was in the conference finals the two last seasons, so this season I would love to be a part of a team that will win the title! This is a dream for all of us and we want to make it come true”.
– At first you worked out for the Cavs. After what happened with Lebron, do you feel that you missed the chance of being part of something special?
“I think considering Cleveland, they had many other things in mind. When I was there, they still haven’t decided about the coach and also which the first pick was going to be. I guess they just went the other way. Indiana was far more determined to get me over there. So I have no regrets! I think everything worked out perfectly. I am very, very happy and satisfied. I am looking forward to play with them even against Lebron. Of course he is the player everybody would like to play with, but this is something I don’t think about now. I am extremely happy with the position I am right now”.
– How can a player from Eurocup and Zaragoza make the jump to the NBA? What happened during the last months?
“It’s hard to say! The recipe to make it to the NBA coming from Zaragoza… The club gave me the opportunity to play in a high European level. I have been doing that for the last couple of years. I am happy my good games haven’t went unnoticed by the NBA teams. I played well with consistent three points percentage. I think that was a crucial part. I worked on that very hard every day. I am very happy I have made that jump. I am very proud of that big step and I sincerely like to thank my great agents and friends without whom none of this could have been possible. They made it happen with their excellent work. Giorgos Dimitropoulos and Alex Saratsis of Octagon Europe and Octagon Basketball. I am truly very happy to have them as agents. They are huge part of this and I will be forever thankful for what they did for me this summer”.
– You are also a key member of the Croatian national team. What can we expect from you and your team in the upcoming FIBA World Cup?
“We can expect good things. We have a good group capable for something big. Of course everything depends on the rosters of our opponents. Who is going to respond to the call of their national teams. I believe we will have a great team. We earned the fourth position on the previous Eurobasket and that was a surprise for many people watching us. I hope we will keep representing our country in a very good way. The World Cup is a great opportunity for us to keep the good story going on. We want to bring back the basketball to Croatia as we did the previous summer”!
– Do you feel that your generation of Croatian players is finally escaping the shadow of legends like Petrovic, Radja and Kukoc?
“Honestly I don’t think that we have escaped their shadow. It’s still too early. That’s a generation that brought many gold medals to Croatia and Ex- Yugoslavia. So, we have a long way to go. We have great individuals and high potentials. Players with great careers. What’s still missing for us to escape all those shadows is a medal! To win something important! We want it badly. Until we achieve something special, definitely we won’t be out of the legends’ shadow”!