While most incoming basketball recruits were playing in informal leagues over the summer, freshman Marin Kukoc was representing his home country of Croatia in one of the world’s most intense youth basketball tournaments — the men’s FIBA U-18 European Championship.
Kukoc, a 6-foot-7 native of Split, Croatia laced up in the now-annual tourney that pits the top qualifying European nations against one another.
Held in Lithuania where basketball is king, the tournament gave Kukoc — the son of former NBA star Toni Kukoc — the opportunity to play on a much bigger stage than that of his former high school, Highland Park (Ill.)
“The atmosphere itself was just very different, much more intense,” Kukoc said about the tournament, which had 13,000 fans in attendance for the championship game between Lithuania and Russia.
The different environment not only gave Kukoc prime time experience, but also tested his play on the hardwood.
Competing against the premier young talent across Europe — including future NBA prospects — Kukoc played in each of the team’s nine games, averaging 3.3 points and 2.2 rebounds in just over 16 minutes per game.
Although those numbers may not necessarily jump off the page, the tournament exposed the parts of his game that need improvement, which according to Kukoc are “the speed of my game, and just decision-making and ball control.”
“The speed of the game was not much faster, but it was faster than in high school because you have a shot clock... [And] the athleticism and the quality of players is better, so you just have to know how to control yourself and control the game.”
Halfway across the globe, Kukoc was also forced to adapt to a different style of play.
In Europe the game features a more fluid half-court offense and defense, while the American style relies more on sheer athleticism and up-tempo scoring.
“The chance to see how the style of basketball is played in Europe as opposed to the college game or as opposed to the high school game, you know to be a student of the game, it can’t do anything but help,” said Penn coach Jerome Allen who played professionally in Europe for a decade.
There are also differences in terms of officiating. As Kukoc explained, referees in Europe tend to call more on-the-ball fouls and let you get away with more contact off the ball, while in America it’s the reverse.
Given that Kukoc’s role on the Croatian side was to be a defensive specialist, those differences in the physicality of the game and the way it’s called were at the forefront. Kukoc averaged 2.4 fouls over 16.2 minutes per game.
Officiating differences aside, Kukoc hopes to bring his defensive skill set to the Quakers, who ranked last in the Ivy League in field goal defense and fifth in overall team defense just a year ago.
And while a summer abroad for Kukoc meant a summer away from his newest teammates, Allen was ultimately supportive of Kukoc’s decision to play in the tournament.
“[Allen] knows how difficult it is and how different it is, and he just thought I would benefit from it more than I’d be taking away.”Comments powered by Disqus
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