|The WNBA can wait as far as Nika Baric is concerned - the Slovenian international has the Russian league race and the EuroBasket Women Qualification Round on her mind right now|
By Paul Nilsen
Her development at the elite level and incredible potential is also beginning to alert WNBA clubs who could consider Baric during this week's draft, since she turns 20 years old later this year.
Having seen Sparta&K head coach Pokey Chatman sign Sonja Petrovic for Chicago Sky, many are now wondering whether it is too early for Baric or whether she could be an interesting option.
The Slovenian ace has not ruled out one day trying her hand in the US but was at pains to point out that her commitments lie firmly with Sparta&K and the Slovenian national team right now.
"Just as with many other players, the WNBA is my dream since no Slovenian player has played there but it's a dream that has to wait for many reasons," explained Baric.
"One of the most important reasons is that throughout the duration of my multi-year commitment with Sparta&K, I have agreed that I can't play for any WNBA team without their permission.
"Of course I hope that when the time comes, if they feel that it is best for me, they will allow me to fulfil my dream."
SLOVENIA AND EUROBASKET WOMEN QUALIFICATION
"I am sure that this summer, I will help the national team," Baric declares.
"After all, I feel that this time we will all take this matter much more seriously, we will prepare for the qualification process more passionately and we will fight with Lithuania for first place.
"We will prove that Slovenian women's basketball is on the rise."
A GIANT STEP
If this summer is shaping up to be a vital one for Baric, it pales into insignificance compared to the moment she decided to make the almost immeasurable step up in quality from the Slovenian league with Celje to play for the four time EuroLeague Women champions last year.
It was an important moment for the player who has been on the shopping list of top level clubs throughout her teenage years - such was the impact of her phenomenal performances at youth level.
"It's true many approached me and advised me that I should play elsewhere for at least one season," admitted Baric.
"But, the insistence of the whole Sparta&K organization is what convinced me to sign with the team that proved they believed in me.
After all, Sparta&K is one of the few clubs that I know in the Euroleague Women would produce and promote talent from within including the likes of Natalia Vieru and Ksenia Tikhonenko.
"During my first days in Vidnoje I was scared by the fact that I was playing against great players such as Becky Hammon and Seimone Augustus, but coach Chatman helped me relax and start learning from some of the best.
"It's not every day you have a coach like her and players like Becky and also Jelena Skerovic to share the tricks of the point guard position with you."
Baric could barely be happier with the way things have panned out although she is already aiming to attain even greater success moving forward.
"This season we are having a good year but I am confident that next season we will do better and that I will be more of a contributing factor in my team.
"I love the city, I love our fans and I really feel like this is a home away from home.
"It is what I had hoped one day I would had found in my career."
Sparta&K General Manager Steve Costalas is also delighted with the development of the rising star, having resisted the temptation to loan her to another team.
"Even after being voted FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year in 2010, I guess after the first practice with Sparta&K, Nika surely must have felt like the legendary Judy Garland when in ‘The Wizard of Oz' she said ‘Toto, I don't think we are in Kansas anymore'," he says.
"When we signed Nika we knew we had a diamond in the rough.
"Many so-called specialists insisted that we should farm her out but we did not consider it even for one minute.
Costalas added: "Everything was perfect for her to start learning and at the same time producing."
Both Costalas and the player herself will no doubt be hoping a solid first campaign is rounded off in style by landing the Russian Championship - something which will be contested in the coming weeks.