By Lefteris Moutis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
In the summer of 2012, only one day after it became clear that Dusko Vujosevic returns to Partizan’s bench, Nikola Milutinov signed a contract with the Serbian champs. He was a 17 year old kid, with altogether seven minutes played in senior competition in his career and almost without a muscle on his body.
But this kid from Novi Sad worked for two years in Hemofarm with the famous coach Zarko Vucurovic, who taught him the basketball basics to become great center. It was time for Vujosevic to carry on the torch.
The team that Dule gathered that season was the youngest in Europe, but he often reminded everybody that this team could became big in couple of seasons if those guys stay together (they, of course, didn’t). Lucic, Bogdanovic, Milosavljevic and Bertans welcomed Westermann, Gordic, Gagic, Musli, later Lauvergne, but Vujosevic most often mentioned Milutinov as the European future star.
In his debut season, he played in every ABA league game, averaging 9 minutes, 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds per game. He still didn’t celebrate his 18th birthday when he finished his first Euroleague season – 8 games, 7:29 minutes, 3,3 points, 1,4 rebounds per game. Later, Milutinov was saying that even he didn’t expect so many chances to play in his first year in Partizan.
As an ABA league and Serbian league champion he went to the FIBA U19 World Championship in Prague. Along with Micic, Jokic, Jankovic, Andric he won the silver medal, lost the final to USA team which included Okafor, Gordon, Payton, Smart… Although he had injury problems, he showed his quality with 10,7 points and 5,9 rebounds per game.
But he needed a rest and rehabilitation so he missed the next season the first five games in the ABA league and three in the Euroleague. He was still searching for a rhythm, but he was becoming better and better. In total of 21 games in the Euroleague that season (16 as a starter) he played 20:18 minutes per game, something priceless for him. As still a teenager he had 4,7 points (51,3% 2FG) and 3,3 rebounds per game.
This quiet kid with a smile on his face was building his confidence with plying time (experience) and trophies (Serbian championship), but not until 2014/2015 season he showed how big prospect he is.
He rested during last summer, gained few kilos and became stronger and more dangerous above the rim. He was amazing in offensive rebounds with his long arms and fast jumps, as someone who understands the game perfectly; he became one of the top young centers in Europe. During a very tough season for Partizan, Gagic left the club, so Milutinov became the only center. And he just celebrated his 20th birthday.
But he showed everything he got, even against Crvena Zvezda’s powerful duo, Boban Marjanovic – Maik Zirbes. He finished the season with 9,8 points and 7,6 rebound per game in ABA league, as the best offensive rebounder of the league (3,6 per game). In the Serbian league he finished seven games with double digits rebounds. Once he even collected 20 rebounds, 12 of them offensive!
Partizan finished the season without a trophy (first time during the last 13 years) but Greg Popovich, R.C. Buford and their San Antonio Spurs stuff saw something in the best European school for future NBA players. They wouldn’t throw easily away their first round pick (26).
Maybe they remembered where they “bought” one of their first Europeans, Zarko Paspalj. Or maybe they remembered Divac, Rebraca, Krstic, Pekovic, and all the other centers, who raised in Partizan.
But Milutinov still needs more European experience. Vujosevic said he needed to play in Partizan for one more year so he could become even better player, but Milutinov chose to play in the Euroleauge.
A guy with such a size and athleticism should probably fit perfectly to Olympiacos’ way of thinking. Spanoulis’ way of thinking.