What’s expected to be a long Euroleague history tipped off on Friday (November 30, 2012) as 17-year-old Croatian sensation Mario Hezonja made his debut in Europe’s top league for Barcelona, scoring 5points in nearly 12 minutes of play.
Hezonja, who has yet to make his Spanish league debut, went 2 of 4 from the field and 1 of 2 from the line along with 2 rebounds, 1 steal in Barcelona’s 78-48 victory at Besiktas.
Hezonja played nearly 5 minutes in second quarter, about four minutes in third and the final two minutes of the game for 11:56 minutes in total.
With Barcelona already guaranteed a spot in the Euroleague Top 16, head coach Xavier Pascual decided to add Hezonja to the game roster, which also included 20-year-old Marko Todorovic of Montenegro and enticing 19-year-old Spanish talent Alex Abrines.
Hezonja joined Barcelona this off-season, coming from KK Zagreb on a three-year contract with an option to extend for an additional four years. This past summer, Hezonja was named to the All-Tournament team at the FIBA U17 World Championship in Lithuania, leading Croatia to a bronze medal with 20.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.3 assists.
The championship came after Hezonja missed the entire 2011-12 season with a serious ankle injury and then got hit with a case of mononucleosis.
Hezonja is not entirely new to the Euroleague stage per se. During the 2010-11 season, the Dubrovnik native helped KK Zagreb to the NIJT Final Four, averaging 19.5 points, 10 rebounds and 1.3 steals at the IJT Rome tournament. At the Final Four event in Barcelona, Hezonja averaged 21 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists as KK Zagreb won the title. That KK Zagreb team of course included Croatian superstar Dario Saric and fellow top talent Dominik Mavra – Saric and Mavra being 1994-born players and Hezonja from 1995.
Hezonja, who turns 18 on February 25, has played exclusively for Barcelona’s second team, averaging 16.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.6 steals in seven games in the LEB Gold.