Congratulations from BallinEurope go out to KK Zagreb Croatia Osiguranje, who are the 2011 Nike International Junior Tournament champions after defeating Žalgiris Kaunas, 76-65, in the championship match this morning. A few observations on the match, if you will…
• First and foremost, there’s Dario Saric. You don’t need BiE to tell you to believe the hype on this dude billed as the next Toni Kukoc after he notched a triple-double of 15/12/10 in this game, but whoa was Saric head and shoulders above the field today.
Saric displayed an incredible all-around game featuring rebounding, leading the fast break, beating his man off the dribble and gorgeous no-look passes – and all this came on the first two Zagreb possessions. Even when his shooting touch was off early (he went for just 3-of-12 shooting in the first half), Saric still established himself as a serious presence in the middle that forced the ball into Žalgiris’ undersized guards’ hands. And the Lithuanian side managed just a woeful 2-of-18 outside the paint in the first half as a result.
• Also an Achilles’ heel for Žalgiris: The team’s strange discomfort on both sides of the fast break in this game. Perhaps they were a tad tuckered out after the 27-point destruction of FC Barcelona yesterday.
• While the spotlight was firmly fixed on Saric, the real discovery in this NIJT tournament may prove to be the stud’s teammate Mario Hezonja. Hezonja showed amazing synergy with Saric in the tourney — “Mario and Dario” is definitely a natural publicity-making name — and chased up his 26-point barrage against Fenerbahce Ulker yesterday with 19 points, six rebounds and four steals today. Watch out for this dude. (He’s the one with the Iversonian armwear.)
• Here in Barcelona, much of the press corps has been muttering about the (overbearing) presence of Saric’s father at the KK Zagreb games. Predrag was at his best/worst again today, constantly chiding his son in the manner of the worst examples from American Little League baseball parents.
BiE realizes that no one wants superduperstardom and a long career from Dario than Saric-the-elder, but sheesh, isn’t it enough that the coaching staff looks upon the lad as a Jordanesque leader of this team already? And how might this game have been different if the referees followed through on their threat near the end of the second quarter to T up the Zagreb bench for loudly decrying every Croatian foul? Sportsmanship, gentlemen, sportsmanship … isn’t that what youth ball on some level is supposed to be about?