When it comes to the NBA, Luka Doncic is an anomaly. He’s the number one draft pick, and he’s already one of the most popular players in the league. It’s because he’s one of the youngest players, and also, the first European player to be drafted first overall. The Dallas Mavericks didn’t even have to draft him, they traded away their first round pick to the Atlanta Hawks to get him. The number one draft pick, in the most unpredictable draft in NBA history.
On Wednesday, March 14, the New York Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers by a score of 115-114 in New York. While the game was close for the first four-plus quarters, the Knicks ended up taking the lead and held on for the victory. Luka Doncic, who turned 20 on March 15, was the catalyst in the win. Doncic scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, just the second 20-10 game of his career.Even though the Dallas Mavericks are at 6. Eliminated in June for the NBA playoffs, this didn’t stop Luka Doncic from writing a new story on the court. This continued on the 4th. July continued when Doncic recorded a triple double in a 96-85 win over Slovenia in one of four Olympic qualifying games.
Slovenia joins Italy, the Czech Republic and Germany as the last of the four teams eligible to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. For two of these teams, participation in the Olympics is even more important than for the others.
Of course, this is not the first time Luka Doncic has made history for the Slovenian national team.
Luka Doncic of Slovenia celebrates the final match of the 2020 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Men between Lithuania and Slovenia. | Alfredas Pliades/Xinhua via Getty Images
Prior to 2017, the Slovenian men’s team had never won EuroBasket, a FIBA tournament held alongside the European Championships. The Slovenians have reached the medal podium only once, with bronze in 2009. Since becoming independent following the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia has participated in the FIBA World Cup three times and has never finished in seventh place.
But the country had a young rising star, and at EuroBasket 2017 it opened up to the rest of Europe. Luka Doncic is a rising star for Real Madrid in the Spanish ACB competition. The 18-year-old was paired with former international and NBA star Goran Dragic at the start of the group stage.
Slovenia survived their group in Helsinki, Finland, with a perfect 5-0 record to advance to the Round of 16. Slovenia then beat Ukraine before beating Latvia 103-97.
In the semi-final, Slovenia’s success resonated across Europe. Spain, the defending champion of EuroBasket, won in Istanbul, Turkey. Instead, Doncic had 11 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in 36 minutes, and Slovenia beat the Spaniards 92-72. Slovenia won its first EuroBasket title by beating Serbia 93-85 in the final.
What about the Olympics? It was a crazy dream for Luka Doncic and Slovenia. At least, it was.
Luka Doncic was absent from the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers in Slovenia, and it showed. Slovenia finished 3-9 in the group tournament and failed to qualify for the European Zone. This ruled out automatic participation in the Olympics.
The Slovenians qualified for the group stage at a qualifying tournament in Kaunas, Lithuania. They beat Angola 118-68 and Poland 112-77 to reach the knockout stage. A 98-70 victory over Venezuela in the semi-finals secured a meeting with the tournament hosts for the coveted trip to the Olympics.
Slovenia participated in the Olympic Games for the first time. They will play in Group C with Argentina, Japan and Spain. It should be noted that Argentina and Spain are playing for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, with Spain as the defending champion. The United States is a three-time Olympic gold medalist.
But Slovenia was not the only country to score an important victory in the breakthrough to 4. July.
Just as Slovenia was part of the former Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic emerged from the dissolution of the former Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s. Their record at EuroBasket made the Slovenes look like a dynasty. The Czechs have participated in EuroBasket just five times since becoming a national team in 1993. His best finish was seventh in 2015. They finished 20th at EuroBasket 2017.
But they have a chance to qualify for the Olympics if they perform well at the 2019 FIBA World Championships.
The Czechs finished second in Group B at the qualifying tournament in Victoria, Canada. After losing to Turkey 87-70, they beat Uruguay 80-79 in their first game. In the semi-final against host Canada, the Czech Republic squandered a six-point lead in the final 22 seconds and had to play catch-up in extra time. Tomasz Satoranski of the Chicago Bulls won with a jumper with one second to go, 103-101.
The Czechs closed out their first-ever Olympics with a 97-72 final victory over Greece. The Czech Republic is in Group A with Iran, France and the USA. Group B includes two qualifiers, Germany and Italy, as well as Australia and Nigeria.
But Slovenia’s qualification means there will be another star to watch at the Olympics. Luka Doncic has his chance on the world stage.
Statistics are provided by FIBA.
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