July 18, 2024

Mavericks’ Luka Doncic Previews ‘Tough Task’ of Croatia Matchup at Olympic Qualifier

Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic is preparing to lead the Slovenian national team through the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in Piraeus, Greece, aiming for a spot in the Paris Olympics. Their first challenge is a match against Croatia, featuring notable players like Ivica Zubac, Dario Saric, and Mario Hezonja.

“The first task will not be easy, because Croatia has some excellent individuals that we know well. Mario Hezonja from Real Madrid, Dario Saric, and Ivica Zubac from the NBA are their main weapons,” Doncic said. “The key will be to stop the mentioned trio, but, of course, we must not forget the other Croatian players. We want to win because every match is important.” He recalled the tough journey to secure a spot in the Tokyo Olympics, which required winning the Olympic qualifying tournament in Lithuania. Although many expect a final phase matchup between Slovenia and Greece, Doncic stressed the importance of focusing first on Croatia and New Zealand.

“I remember that match from Kaunas in the qualification for the previous Olympic Games,” Doncic said. “We played in front of a packed hall of Lithuanians and won. It would be nice to repeat it in this hall in front of a loud Greek audience. But until then, we have a long way to go. We only have to think about the next matches, first Croatia, then New Zealand, and then we’ll see.” After participating in one full practice in Ljubljana, Doncic scored 32 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out seven assists against Brazil in an 86-80 win for Slovenia. He logged 31 minutes in the game to help build a rhythm and also participated in two practices in Piraeus. Doncic acknowledged the adjustments needed for FIBA basketball, including the different ball, the closer three-point line, and different rules.

“We did two training sessions here in Piraeus, and I have a friendly match in Stozice with Brazil behind me, so I’m slowly getting used to returning to European baskets,” Doncic said. “However, there are some differences, the ball is different, the three-pointer is closer, and certain rules are also different. We all know what we came to Piraeus for, these are the Olympic Games, nothing else will satisfy us.” Slovenia is missing key players like Vlatko Cancar and Edo Muric, who are recovering from torn ACLs. Despite their absence, Doncic led the team to a seventh-place finish in the FIBA World Cup last year, the best in the program’s history. Additionally, Josh Nebo has taken over the naturalized roster spot from Mike Tobey.

KZS/m24.si

“Although I have already written to Mike, I would like to thank him once again for everything he has done for the Slovenian national team,” Doncic said. “With him, we qualified for the Olympic Games. Josh is great and quickly fits into the team and the system. The atmosphere in the team is excellent. The players hang out a lot, have fun, and above all, we can’t wait for it to really start and to show our strength.” Doncic will continue to serve as Slovenia’s captain despite Muric’s return from injury. He treasures the opportunity to play for his national team, calling it “always an honor.”

“I enjoy playing basketball the most, I’m really happy that it’s my job, every time I wake up and there’s a training session or a match waiting for me, I’m happy,” Doncic said. “It’s always an honor to play for the national team. I love playing for Slovenia. I always say that whenever I can, I will play for the selected team.”

Only one team from Piraeus will advance to the Olympics, and Doncic and his teammates are highly motivated to lead the team to another Olympic bid. Drawing from previous experiences, Doncic is determined to achieve this feat again.

“Performing at the Olympic Games would mean a lot, not only to me, but to the whole team and I believe, also to the whole of Slovenia,” Doncic said. “Qualifying for the Olympic Games is not easy, we have managed to do it once so far, and it would be an honor for us to succeed again.”

For more coverage of the Dallas Mavericks throughout the NBA offseason and of Luka Doncic at the pre-Olympic qualifier tournament in Greece, stay tuned to MavericksGameday.

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