|'Thank you, I'll grab this rebound now' - 22-year-old Nikola Vucevic has surpassed the likes of Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard at Orlando Magic|
It's not Shaquille O'Neal; It's not Dwight Howard either. The record for most rebounds by an Orlando Magic player in a single game belongs, as of Monday night, to Montenegro international Nikola Vucevic.
The 22-year-old European center collected 29 boards (11 of them on the offensive end) to go with is career-high 20 points during Orlando's clash with local rivals Miami Heat at home on New Year's Eve.
The Magic finally fell to the reigning NBA champions, 112-110, after overtime, but the young Montenegrin stole the limelight and became the big media story of the last night of the year.
"I was quite aware [of how many rebounds I had] during the game because my team-mates were telling me that I was close to 30," Vucevic said in a post-game interview.
"The closest I had come to this before in my life was about 20 [rebounds]."
The previous record, 28, belonged to O'Neal and had stood for almost 20 years, since November 1993.
"Shaquille O'Neal was one of the most dominant big men to ever play the game, and for sure breaking his record means a lot," the Montenegrin center admitted.
On top of dominating on the glass, Vucevic was trusted with a special - and quite atypical for a 2.13m center - task in this game.
Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn decided to try something different on defence this time around and for most of the 47 minutes that Vucevic spent on the floor, he had to guard Miami superstar Lebron James.
Last season's NBA finals MVP scored 36 points, but 15 of them came from free throws and he went only 10-for-22 from the floor.
"It's not difficult [to guard James] just for me, it's difficult for anyone, he is the best player in the league and such a smart player, I tried to do the best I could," Vucevic said modestly.
The Montenegrin's previous career-high in rebounds in the NBA was 17. He joined Orlando in the summer from the Philadelphia 76ers, were he spent his rookie season.
Vucevic has started in all 31 games so far for Orlando and is averaging 10.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per contest.
Nikola is the son of former Yugoslavia international Borislav (Boro) Vucevic, who was on the Bosna Sarajevo team that won the 1979 European Champions' Cup (today's Euroleague) title.
His father finished his playing career in Switzerland and Belgium and famously had not allowed the young Nikola to practice with any basketball team until he was 12 years old, when the family returned to Bar, in Montenegro.
Boro then took over at local club Mornar as head coach and Nikola joined the team so that his father would be personally responsible for his basketball education.
Vucevic first played for the senior Montenegro national team in 2009 and was one of the youngest players to play more than 14 minutes on average at EuroBasket 2011, where he contributed 5.0 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
He was selected by Philadelphia with the 16th overall pick in the NBA draft that same summer.