Croatia certainly will be do their part to increase the star power of the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship as Dario Saric and Mario Hezonja both were named to Croatia’s squad for the star-studded tournament. And Croatian head coach Drazen Brajkovic’s said Saric will head to the Croatian senior national team after the U19 Worlds.
Brajkovic ended months of speculation about whether two of Europe’s biggest stars would play in Prague from June 27-July 7 and included both in his 16-man preliminary squad. Saric will miss the beginning of Croatia’s training camp starting on May 25 as he plays for Cibona in the Croatian playoffs. But Hezonja will be on hand for the start in Daruvar.
“Dario Saric is with Cibona right now for the playoffs and he will come to the national team in about 10 days,” said Brajkovic, whose team was drawn into Group A with Canada, Spain and Korea.
“For me, he’s the best player in Europe born in 1994.”
Saric was the MVP of Croatia’s run to the gold medal at the 2012 U18 European Championship. He is also expected to be selected in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft, which will take place on the first day of the tournament – just hours after Saric plays against Korea.
Brajkovic also told heinnews that the 19-year-old Saric will head straight to the senior Croatian national team after the tournament in Prague.
“Saric will 100 percent play at the World Championship in Prague. After the world championship, he will go into the Croatia national team,” Brajkovic told heinnews.
At the 2013 EuroBasket, Croatia’s senior team will be facing hosts Slovenia, Poland, Spain, Czech Republic and Georgia in Group C action in Celje.
Hezonja, who at 18 is a year younger than Saric, lived up to his billing in his first season with Barcelona, even earning time with the senior side in the Euroleague.
“Dario Saric and Mario Hezonja, for me, will be two of the best players at the World Championship,” said Brajkovic.
But Croatia will be much more than just the two stars. Mislav Brzoja was a star at last summer’s U18 European competition while Martin Junakovic is a super point guard – just like Dominik Mavra, the latter who teamed with Saric and Hezonja to win the 2011 NIJT title with KK Zagreb in Barcelona.
Hezonja last summer came back strongly from his bout with mononucleosis and was named to the All-Tournament Team as Croatia claimed the bronze medal at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship.
Croatia will play at a warm-up tournament in Dubrovnik with Russia, Argentina and Brazil and also play two test games against Serbia.
Here is the full 16-man preliminary U19 Croatia squad: Ivan Bender, Mislav Brzoja, Filip Bundovic, Lovro Demo, Mario Hezonja, Antun Hrkac, Tomislav Gabric, Josip Gulam, Martin Junakovic, Karlo Lebo, Marin Maric, Dominik Mavra, Jakov Mustapic, Tomislav Rados, Dario Saric, Daniel Zovko