|19-year-old Dario Saric is expected to be Croatia's youngest player at the EuroBasket|
Dario Saric, touted as one of the best young players in the world, is only hours away from being named on Croatia's team for EuroBasket 2013 and, consequently, fulfilling one of his childhood dreams.
"I feel great, ever since I was a child I have watched the EuroBasket on TV, followed the games and cheered on for Croatia," the 19-year-old versatile forward confessed in an interview with crosarka.com.
"And now, to become a part of such a great team, which will compete in such a major event, it is certainly a great honour and pleasure for me, and that means a lot.
"I will also have the opportunity to acquire great gaming experience next to players who play in Europe's biggest clubs.
"I am very happy that I'm here and I try to absorb as much information from the coaches and my team-mates."
Croatia have not impressed in their preparations, registering just four victories in 10 warm-up games, but Saric's aspirations for a great showing at the EuroBasket remain intact.
"I think it's good that our opening game is against [reigning champions] Spain," the youngster said.
"You know what you are up against, they have NBA players and we do not, they have more quality than us.
"However, they can be weaker at the start of the tournament and if we make this one a good first game, perhaps clinch a surprising victory, it will make it easier for us to play."
Croatia were drawn in First Round Group C at the EuroBasket and apart from Spain, they will take on hosts Slovenia, Poland, Georgia and the Czech Republic in the race for a top-three finish that leads to the Second Round.
"From my experience from the youth national teams, I think the most important game in the tournament is the quarter-final," Saric offered.
"Should we reach that point, everything is possible, and I think we will be especially focused if we remain healthy, which is a basic requirement for a good result.
"We all sincerely hope that this year we will achieve something good, we really have a strong team
"This team has been together for long and now experiences a maturity in its game that I think we will show at the EuroBasket.
"This could now be our competition, time will show."
|Dario Saric dominated on youth level, being named MVP for the first time at the U16 European Championship in 2010|
MAKING THE JUMP TO SENIOR LEVEL
Croatia head coach Jasmin Repesa is expected to announce the 12-man squad that will represent the nation in the big event in Slovenia by Friday, and the inclusion of Saric is almost a foregone conclusion.
Among his many achievements as a teenager, the Sibenik-born forward averaged double digits in points and rebounds to lead Croatia to the gold medal at the U16 European Championship in 2010 and the U18 European Championship in 2012.
Saric walked away with the tournament MVP award on both occasions, leaving behind him numerous hours of spectacular highlights reel for fans around Europe to enjoy.
But the wonder boy of European basketball is expected to be the only player below the age of 23 on the Croatian team that will compete at the EuroBasket.
Even for him, the transition to senior level has not been easy.
"Simply put, it is a small step when you switch from cadets to U18, U19 or U20, but a very big step to play with the seniors," Saric explained.
"It is necessary to climb this step gradually, that's why a lot of players that might be dominant at youth level, can not be equally dominant on the big stage.
"It is a different kind of basketball, a much faster game at all times and you must take decisions rapidly.
Saric's enormous basketball talent and physical attributes were obviously an enormous asset in him making the transition successfully, but there is also another factor that helped him enormously.
"In my opinion, it is necessary [for a young player] to first pass through a qualifying cycle, where the opponents are slightly weaker and your team-mates can get to know you.
"Now [at the EuroBasket] the need to get the result is imperative, and it would be very difficult [for a youngster] to come in and make a contribution just like that.
"For me it was easier because I played with the senior team a year ago [in the EuroBasket Qualification Round].
"I was included in the team slowly, when there was less pressure as we had already picked up a few victories."
Saric averaged 9.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game for Croatia in last summer's Qualification Round.
"It was easier to adapt because I went into the games against Cyprus and Hungary," he admitted.
"I do not want to underestimate anyone, but it certainly is not the same to play against Cyprus and against Spain, and it helped me a lot.
"However, the youth team has a lot of quality and talented players who will one day play for the senior Croatian national team."