By Kevin Anselmo
Mario Kasun is living proof that dreams come true.
The Croatian center standing at 2 meters 13 is doing things he never realized were possible by both playing in the NBA and for the national team.
In Croatia’s last game, Kasun came up with 20 points and seven rebounds to help knock-out Italy, the defending EuroBasket bronze medalists. The victory allowed Croatia to qualify for the quarter-finals and gives them a chance of winning a EuroBasket medal for the first time since 1995.
It has been a long drought for Croatia and Kasun is excited about the possibility of helping his country return to the forefront of international basketball.
|Mario Kasun (Croatia)|
“It’s the best feeling to play for your country,” he said. “Basketball is very big in our country and our fans have waited a long time for us to get it going.”
Kasun, whose favourite player growing up was Drazen Petrovic, was 15 years old when Croatia last medaled in EuroBasket. He remembers the team vividly.
“I never thought that it would have been possible to be in their same situation. Players on the national team are heroes back home.”
Born and raised in Ogulin, Croatia, Kasun intended to play at Gonzaga University for the 2000-01 season. He was ruled ineligible and returned to Europe where he played the following year with Cologne. In 2003-04, he was a member of the Opel Skyliners Frankfurt squad which won the national championship in Germany. Drafted by the Clippers in 2002, Kasun was later traded to the Orlando Magic.
November 12, 2004 is a day etched in Kasun’s memory for the rest of his life. The Orlando Magic were taking on Kobe Bryant and the western division champion Los Angeles Lakers and Kasun was making his NBA debut.
“I remember that first game when I was warming up and stretching,” he recalls. “I kept asking myself, is this real? Am I really playing against some of the greatest basketball players in the world?”
Kasun got limited action in his rookie campaign, averaging 7.9 minutes and 2.6 points per game. He showed some of his potential by grabbing 10 rebounds in only 13 minutes in a game against the Denver Nuggets.
Playing for the national team and in the NBA has been something beyond Kasun’s imagination.
“I was always dreaming, but I never realized that dreams come true. I guess that I can be an example for kids to follow their goals, because you never know. If it could happen to me, maybe it could happen for them too.”
When asked to envision the feeling of winning a medal for Croatia here at EuroBasket 2005, Kasun said: “It would be incredible. I couldn’t even imagine the feeling.”
Kasun and his teammates will attempt to take another step towards discovering this feeling when they take on Spain in the quarter-finals on Friday at 21:00.