Despite almost three weeks in Slovenia watching loads of basketball at EuroBasket 2013, it was impossible to pass up the intriguing pre-season match-up between emerging German powerhouses Bayern Munich and Euroleague Final Four regulars Barcelona.
Sure, Barcelona were missing Erazem Lorbek, Ante Tomic, Juan Carlos Navarro and Kostas Papanikolaou. But it was still Barcelona.
Plus it was a chance to watch Mario Hezonja get some nice playing time.
And the 18-year-old Croatian star talent got some good time burn. He played 22 minutes and scored three points on one-of-four three-pointers while dishing out five assists, grabbing one rebound and turning the ball over one time.
Hezonja was not available to talk to afterwards but heinnews did talk to two of veteran teammates to hear about the forward, who played two Euroleague games for Barcelona last season and collected five points, four rebounds and one steal.
“A tremendous talent. He’s got a little bit of a … how can I put this … he got fire in him. I like that. Sometimes he speaks when he’s not supposed to. But that’s good,” said Barcelona center Maciej Lampe.
“I think he’s going to develop into a great player one day. He’s just to keep his head cold and keep on working every day and learning. I like him a lot as a player and a person. He’s definitely … how can I say this … (smiling) he’s like a killer out there.”
While Lampe likened Hezonja, center Joey Dorsey said the youngster is still learning to deal with his frustration.
“Mario’s going to be really good. I’m trying to take him under my wing and talk to him about the game and all that. The best thing I told him to do is just watch a lot of film and practice hard every day. If you practice hard every day, it leads over to the court. I think he’s going to be really good. He’s just got to mature more and know the game more. Keep going,” said Dorsey.
When asked how Hezonja is as a person, Dorsey said: “He’s very mature for his age. Every day after practice he’s always asking questions. Asking me how was the NBA, how was my transition over to Europe. I just try to give him all the reasons I can tell him about basketball to help his game. But he’s going to be really good.”
There have been questions among observers about Hezonja’s attitude. When asked about those, Dorsey responded with: “I think people don’t know him. He’s a good kid. He gets frustrated at himself when he makes mistakes and everything like that. The biggest thing I try to tell him is when you make a mistake don’t show no facial expressions. That was the biggest thing I would do when I was in college. Just keep playing through the game. It’s a learning process for him.”
He continued: “Before practice he’s the first one in the gym. After practice, he’s the last one to leave. And I told him that’s what every NBA player does. Every great NBA players stays after and ask coaches questions, go over defensive schemes and stuff like that. If he does that and keeps working on his game, he can be really good. In practice, it’s like this kid is only 18 years old. He’s going to be really good.”
Hezonja did not play at all this summer – not for Croatia at the U18 European Championship or the U19 FIBA World Championship – because of an ankle injury he suffered at the Nike International Junior Tournament in May.
A Croatian journalist said the injury almost immediately ruled Hezonja out of the U19 Worlds.
“They probably did not want to force him to play at the U18s. I think the federation was afraid to make things worse if he had played injured, like they did with Bojan Bogdanovic few years ago,” said the reporter.
He also said Hezonja was not even considered for EuroBasket 2013 – where 19-year-old Dario Saric excelled for the fourth-placed Croatians.
“But everybody expects him to be the 12th man at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. I think he will be.”