2008 Men's Olympic Basketball Preview: Croatia

In anticipation of the 2008 Olympics Green Bandwagon and fellow SB Nation blog At The Hive have been alternating previews for each basketball team headed to Beijing. Check out previous posts in the sidebars at both sites or click on the following links: China, Greece, Russia, Argentina, Australia, Iran, Lithuania, and Angola.

Population:
4,491,543

Size in Comparison to a US State: About the size of West Virginia (slightly smaller)

Suffrage: Universal at 18, 16 if employed

Interesting Fact: The 1988 Yugoslavian basketball team that won silver in Seoul with Toni Kucoc, Vlade Divac, Dino Radja, and Drazen Petrovic became even more fascinating with the passing of time, the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and the Balkan War that followed suit.

Recommended Reading:
How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. The opening chapter focuses on Serbian hooligans and how they played a role in incidents like this.

World Rank (Courtesy of FIBA): 20

Qualified: Earned bid through the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament

Dream Match Up in Beijing: Russia

Dream Match Up That Did Not Qualify:
Serbia

Recent News: Croatia proved its mettle by defeating Germany to qualify for the 2008 Olympics. Take that Nowitzki, Kaman, and company.

Thoughts on the Team: Croatia strikes me as the classic "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" type team. The Croatians love to run and gun and can be carried by a different player on any given night. Like the Australians, I would not predict them to medal. At the same time I would not count them out against any team.

Marko Banić - Power Forward: At 6-9, 235 pounds Banić is a bit undersized as a power forward. However, he is more than willing to mix it up in the paint. In addition he scores well down low, has a soft touch, rebounds, shoots a high percentage, and plays aggressive defense. Though young (24 later this month), he will be expected to contribute to the Croatian cause.

Stanko Barac - Center:
DraftExpress lists Barac's size (7 feet, 235 pounds) and mid-range shooting as his greatest strengths. Unfortunately he struggles when it comes to strength and athleticism. Still legitimate big guys who are young and can shoot get noticed. Such was the case with Barac when the Heat took him with the 39th pick in the 2007 draft and traded him to Indiana. Barac can also add a jump hook, the ability to take defenders off the dribble, and shot blocking to his resume.

Davor Kus - Guard:
After backing up Scoonie Penn for a season Kus continued to develop and he became one of the better players in Croatia's professional league. Look for Kus to contribute quickness, passing, and three-point shooting. For what it's worth he was third in minutes played in that Olympic clinching victory over Germany. Also check him out on ESPN Video (odd music and incredibly slow start in all its glory). And yes I was glad to mention Penn because I saw him play in high school.

Kresimir Loncar - Forward: He received a ton of attention from a young age and never quite lived up the hype. DraftExpress essentially attributes the disappointment to the fact that he is average at pretty much everything. He's somewhat undersized for a center, yet plays like one. He's not the strongest guy but passes well, has a nice shot, understands the game, and is by no means lazy. In reading up about him I wondered whether or not Loncar would be more highly regarded if he did not get so much positive buzz as a teenager.

Damir Markota - Forward: Markota's size, athleticism, and perimeter skills led Draft Express (check out his profile photo, it's fantastic) to compare him to Vladimir Radmanovic. Whether this means he does not play defense remains to be clear. Regardless he excited scouts with his excellent skill set and ability to play above the rim. The Spurs drafted Markota and traded him to the Bucks. In Milwaukee he played in 30 games and went to the D-League a few times before he was waived. His EuroBasket 2007 profile delves into a difficult past - fled Sarajevo for Sweden during the war and eventually changed his last name due to some family issues. But if you ignore that it sounds a lot like Gerald Green's MO - good shot, nice first step, ridiculous hops, mixed with concerns about his mental toughness and attitude. In closing he earned a DNP in in the all important game against Germany during the FIBA Qualifying Tournament. Everyone else played.

Sandro Nicevic - Center:
I struggled to find anything of substance about Nicevic. Although Luis Fernandez did say he brings size to the table. So yeah.

Zoran Planinic - Point Guard: He is a perfect example of how difficult it is to evaluate players. Some thought he had a brighter future than Tony Parker. Yet Planinic went on to 3 nondescript seasons backing up Jason Kidd in New Jersey before leaving the NBA behind. Regardless he impresses with his size, ball handling, passing, and shooting. He's still young (26) and I'm just going to assume he'll look at Jason Kidd and simply see a bullseye. Check out an interview with him here, which gave rise to several thoughts:

1. If you mention Radja you make the Bandwagon. End of story.

2. Anytime I catch a foreign player do an interview in English I'm thankful because I can understand it. Furthermore, I know my "insert language", in this case Croatian, would be absolutely atrocious.

3. The fact that the title of the YouTube clip said Nicevic would be part of the interview and yet he did not appear, only strengthened my earlier frustrations.

4. I'm really glad his first name is Zoran and not Zohan (you might not want to click on that link).

Marko Popović - Guard: Though not the biggest player Popović excels at play making, dribbling, passing, toughness, and much like his father - shooting. Any interest in some ESPN Video? Ask and you shall receive. As a side note I'm always nervous about guys who play hard, shoot well, and have probably been told one too many times they are too short.

Nikola Prkačin - Power Forward: After focusing initially on water polo he switched over to basketball at age 14. Despite picking the sport up late Prkačin eventually used his size and southpaw approach to excel in Europe before back troubles slowed him. Despite those injuries and an extensive national career that had him contemplating retirement from the international stage following EuroBasket 2007, Prkačin is back in the fold and captain of the squad. And the longest standing member of the Croatian national team (joined in 1997) can still get it done, as his 10 points were second highest in that game against Germany I keep referencing.

Marin Rozic - Forward: Check out his stats from Croatia's big win over Germany. That may explain why there is not a lot written about him at two of the more thorough websites out there - DraftExpress and EuroBasket 2007. Rozic earns praise for his defense and team spirit.

Marko Tomas - Guard/Forward: Somewhat similar to Loncar in the sense that he gained a lot of hype early on and then did not become a mega star. However, Tomas is much further along. He's an excellent shooter that struggles at times to create shots. By all accounts he is a dedicated defender and a player that continues to improve. Bonus points because Tomas is still young (23) and he dropped 21 on Germany. Check out his game winner against Spain. Also as of a couple of years ago Tomas did not see the NBA as his first option (check out his praise of Drazen Petrovic).

Roko-Leni Ukic - Guard:
The Toronto Raptors drafted Ukic 41st overall in the 2005 draft and signed him to a three-year deal. He's built like a 2 but dribbles well and plays the point, albeit to mixed reviews. Ukic also finishes with either hand and surprise, surprise is a good shooter. Interestingly DraftExpress argued that Ukic's game is more suited for the NBA than Europe due to his individual style of play.

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