Luka was born to play basketball.”

Mirjam, the mother, sums it up. And, really, it is shocking to follow the succession of situations in his childhood that ratify this phrase. “I always remember him with a ball in his hand, almost since he learned to walk”, remembers Milena, the maternal grandmother. The new Wonder Boy that the NBA has had for four seasons was raised -and trained- in a Slovenia where sport is the most popular and whose strong sports policy has made a country of just 2,000,000 inhabitants have brought out many world figures in recent times (the cyclists Pogacar and Roglic, the footballers Oblak, Nadanovic and Ilicic, the skier Maze, among others) and achieved great results, such as being European basketball champion, with Luka Doncic and Goran Dragic, the other Slovenian figure. Doncic, despite the initial doubts that arose when he was selected in the draft, is part of the NBA elite and enjoys his moment, after winning his first playoff series and being the second fastest player to reach 500 points in the postseason – he needed two games less than Jordan, just 16, a bestial average of 32.5-. The Dallas Mavericks, with their management and leadership, have the favorite, the Phoenix Suns, in check with a 2-2 that will be unbalanced this Tuesday, after the tSunday’s triumph by 111-101 with 26 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the former Real Madrid.

The first obsession that Luka had, since he was a child, apart from the ball, was his height. so much that he marked his growth with little lines on a wall, as our Manu Ginóbili did, in the first of many similarities that their stories have. The little boy spent his time throwing at a little ring that he had hanging from the door of his room and, sometimes, as happened with MG and Raquel, the mother had to intervene to get the ball out of him. So she wouldn’t break something or just go to sleep. “Many of the things in the house ended up broken, including several pieces of glass,” admits. Luckily for them, they both had a small field very close. In the case of Manu, around the corner from his home, in his beloved Bahiense del Norte, the family club… We had a little field 15 meters away and Luka was there all day”, explains the father. Like Ginobili, he had his brothers, professional players just like Sasha. They inspired and generated that desire for emulation that is so important in the boys. As happened with Sasha, who even played for Olimpia, the most important club in Ljubliana, a basketball city like Manu Bay.

Basketball was breathed in both families. And you lived for basketball. To such an extent that Mirjam, a model who became a world dance champion, says that the best way to calm Luka when he was a baby and cried was to put him in the stroller and take him to the court, to his father’s training. “I don’t know what happened, but Luka calmed down when he heard the bounce of the ball and the squeak of the shoes”, admits. Doncic grew up there. And, like MG20, among greats, wanting to be like them. Throwing to the hoop. Imitating movements. Asking, receiving advice. Until the night, when his parents had to say enough… Luka was a fanatic and, at the age of eight, he asked to be the one who cleaned and dried the field in his father’s games. And there was the little blond, always with a hair dryer in hand. But, of course, also with the ball nearby. To be able to shoot before and after games, even at halftime.

Doncic also practiced several sports: volleyball, handball, soccer, water polo and even judo, especially in elementary school. To the point of impacting his talent in several, especially soccer. “Why did you choose basketball? Perhaps the influence of the father weighed. But I think, deep down, he never had any doubts.”, the mother thinks. Luke was always different. Something that they realized quickly in Olimpia, when he arrived to play in the inferiors, at eight. “To be honest, I only trained him for 16 minutes. He was taller and much better than the others, so we quickly moved him to the U12 team, where he played with guys three and four years older than him.”says Grega Brezovec, Luka’s short-lived first coach, who remembers his talent but also his attitude, determination and passion. He was very responsible for his age. That was shocking. Same as his leadership. Although he was much better than the rest, he played as a team. It was clear that he had basketball in his blood”, add. It was normal to see him play against boys five years older than him.

Precocity was a distinctive trait that did separate him from Manu, who did not paint to be the crack that he later ended up being. Doncic was national champion U12 and U14 with Olimpia. And giving years of advantage. The rules didn’t allow him to do it, but he was lying about his age to be. “I always ended up managing to play in a higher category”accepts Jernej Smolnikar, his training coach. Luka always wanted more. Since he was a child he got used to playing a lot. And train more. It was his passion. “There were days when I told him, ‘tomorrow you are free, stay at home, with your toys, watching TV’. But the next day at noon his parents called me to ask me to let him go to practice, that he was begging them. His passion for learning and competing was incredible.” Smolnikar admits in author Alex Monnig’s book about Doncic’s life. His coaches highlight his eagerness to learn. “It was a sponge, it captured everything that was said to it”assures Brezovec.

By 2011, at the age of 12, Luka was dominating Europe. He had more talent and height (1m80) than almost everyone. He won and, the good thing, he had fun. He killed them but with a smile on his face, as happens today in the NBA. “The secret of his success is that he enjoys basketball”, assures the grandmother. There was, of course, a competition that catapulted him to continental fame: the Lido di Roma Tournament, a U13 that he played against Olimpia in April 2012. He scored 41 points in the semifinal and completed a triple double (54 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) to be the MVP of the victory over Lazio (104-76) in the final. The video of that show was leaked on YouTube and is a true pearl of the archive.

From that moment on, Olympia knew it would be impossible to hold him back. The main European teams began to turn their attention to the Wizard of the Balkans, as they already nicknamed him. And it was Real Madrid that first seduced him when they invited him to participate in the Endesa Mini Cup, where Luka was the MVP, after beating Barcelona in the final. “It hurt me a lot that he left at that age, but at the same time I was very moved and emotional. We wanted to have him with us, but I would never have let him miss out on a great opportunity. I think that going to Spain helped him, made him mature. He came to her at just the right time”, Sasha assures.

At just 13 years old, he signed a five-year contract and moved to the Spanish capital. He never looked intimidated, nor did he change his ways. Inside, yes, he was a murderer. In his first season he won the City of L’Hospitalet Children’s Tournament and was named MVP after averaging 30 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists. He repeated the Minicopa del Rey in Vitoria, once again being the best. A fifth MVP added in the Budapest International Cadet Tournament, giving two years of advantage. Pablo Laso, merengue coach, respected his adaptation times but could not avoid, at 15 years and eight months, summoning him to the first team. What he did in practice was so good that on April 30, 2015, at just 16 years and two months old, Luka took the field against Unicaja and became the youngest debutant in the club’s history (third in the history of the CBA). He made an impact from the first ball he touched, in which he took a three-point shot without hesitation. And he scored it, almost without touching the net. He gave him everything. Less to drive. His mother had to drive him to training because he didn’t have a driver’s license.

Before emigrating to the NBA, he accumulated three ACB Leagues, two Copa del Rey, one Euroleague and, as the icing on the cake, a Eurobasket with his country, in 2017, when he was just 18 years old. Post title, precisely, there is a video of a statement by the Slovenian NBA star, Goran Dragic, which went viral after his first great NBA season and today is more relevant. “In a short time he will be the best player in Europe and even in the world. Remember what I tell you…”, the point guard predicted. On June 26, 2018, Doncic was picked 3rd overall by the Hawks, though he was quickly traded to Dallas for Trae Young. Many today wonder how Luka was not selected first. It hardly matters anymore, today he is a superstar, one of the candidates for the best of the season that he had this campaign. With the same essence that made him different from a very young age: passion for the game, charisma, determination, ambition, mentality and immeasurable talent.

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