Who is today's Vujanic?

In Serbia, it’s Korac Cup time, leading BallinEurope’s Marko Savkovic to contemplate changes in European basketball since the days of Milos Vujanic; specifically, new expertise on defense and subsequent de-emphasis of raining three-pointers. Savkovic tells us who to seek out in the 2012 tourney in terms of long-ball shooting while name-dropping Drazen Petrovic, Magic Johnson and Dejan Bodiroga along the way…

As the Korac Cup gets underway in Nis this weekend – with no surprises yet so far – it’s worth reminding just how many recognized sharpshooters are entering this Final 8 tournament … And, well, there are none.

Bearing in mind the multitude of players from the former Yugoslavia who became known for their shooting skills, this seems hard to believe. Some ten years ago, players like Milos Vujanic – voted by fans onto the Euroleague All-Decade Team – were famous for their ability to teardrop three-pointers in succession. Today, the team he used to play for and the Cup’s strongest contender – Partizan – favors a radically different game. So what has changed?

Right up until mid-1990s, kids began their training by learning fundamentals, as they do today; however, in comparison, far more time was allocated to shooting practice. World-class players would spend extra hours in the gym working on their jump shots. In this context, the late Drazen Petrovic’s practice sessions are particularly memorable.

Today, ball is being played much closer to the basket, while the objective has changed. It is a natural reaction to the rise of the defensive style of play, perfected by, among others, Zeljko Obradovic with Panathinaikos. Now, the primary goal is to prevent the other guy from scoring – by trapping him, outrunning him, making the easy two. Sharpshooters were no longer deemed necessary; they were seen more as a luxury, as self-centered types who could prove to be costly to the team. Looking back at our juniors, and we find teenagers becoming more concerned with their physique than anything else.

This has coincided with another interesting trend: the advent of combo players. Blame Magic, or better yet, blame Bodiroga. Even today, no one seems ready to admit that these players are more the exception than the rule. Zoran Cutura amply notes how this “search for a Croatian Magic” has left a number of talented kids pass unnoticed: This had made the space for sharpshooters even narrower.

However, a reversal of trends seems to be underway. As the rules have changed under the NBA’s influence (since last year, you only get 14 seconds of playing time after a foul call), clinical shooters are sought after again. Even the Lithuanians – praised for staying true to their game – are trying to find a true heir to their hero Saras Jasikevicius.

In Serbia, two young players enter the Korac Cup possessing the rare ability to hit threes in series: These are Danilo Andjusic (Partizan) and Andrija Milutinovic (Red Star Belgrade) and BallinEurope will be keeping a close eye on their performance.

Marko Savkovic fell in love with basketball because: a) his older brother used to play, so it must have been a cool thing to do; and b) he witnessed Vlade Divac, Dino Radja and Toni Kukoc play an exhibition match back in 1988. After learning the fundamentals with Partizan Belgrade, Marko spent four years in FMP Zeleznik’s youth system and another three playing lower-division ball. Years later, as a political science graduate, he found a different career for himself, yet remained devoted to hoops. For BallinEurope, he will be closely following developments in the Adriatic league. You may write him at markosavkovic@gmail.com.

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