Thou Shall Steal

10 August 2010

by Yarone Arbel

Croatia enjoy a lot of attention here, and that's normal as they are the only team in Group E of the U16 European Championship with a perfect record.

Then there's another reason - Dario Saric, who's by far the most dominating player in the entire tournament, and the one who makes the difference and turns Croatia into a strong medal contender.

Less than two weeks ago Saric played his last game in the U18 European Championship with the Croatian team, and he's already carried the team to the quarter-finals here as well.

After talking to FIBA Europe already in Vilnius during the previous competition, now it's time to check on one of his teammates in guard Mislav Brzoja and see what it's like to play alongside Saric.

Brzoja is actually the only player who's not Saric to lead Croatia in a key statistical category as points, rebounds, assists and blocks are in the hands of the star, Brzoja is the proud best stealer of his team, and right now second in the entire competition.

With 3.6 per game he's ranked second in the tournament and in Croatia's last win over Lithuania he set a new individual high here with six.

He's also ninth in the tournament in minutes per game and never rested more than 10 minutes in each of the five games, which shows he has a big importance for his team as well.

"We have Dario Saric who's the best player in this championship and that's why we're doing so well until this point," gives Brzoja a shout out to his teammate and doesn't stop there.

"Playing next to him makes everything so easy, because he has a body of a small forward but a mind of a point guard.

"He gets so much attention from the defense, but he's not selfish so when three players try to stop him he always looks and finds the open man."

What makes all of this even more impressive is the few time Saric has spent with the team before the championship.

"Dario was with the U18 national team and the first time he joined us was more or less here in Montenegro, we had maybe two or three practices together and that's it."

For Brzoja it makes their performance here even more impressive.

After securing the spot in the quarter-finals Croatia now can focus on making a new piece of history here in Bar, Montenegro.

The last, and actually only time, that an U16 team from Croatia won a medal in a European Championship was back in 1995 when the generation of EuroBasket stars as Nikola Vujcic and Dailbor Bagaric won gold.

With two more wins, in the right timing, the players from this generation will be added to the history pages and Brzoja is well aware of that.

"It's great that it didn't happen for so long because it means there's no pressure on us, but it's something we believe we can do if we continue to play well.

"Our results so far show that we can handle the pressure, like when we beat Serbia in the first game despite all the fans were cheering for them, but we must continue this in the next games as well if we want to make something big," he adds.

"I had a chance to play with the team already last year but a foot injury made me skip the championship last year, but so far this tournament has been a great experience for me.

"I just hope we'll have a good finish and get that medal."


16.08.2010 - Champions

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