Brooklyn’s bloodline of international players has done more than help the Nets win basketball games. It's allowed them to reach fans ... and aspiring pros ... around the world.
The legendary Drazen Petrovic (Croatia) has made the biggest impact, of course, but Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia) and Mirza Teletovic (Bosnia) have made the Nets must-watch television for up-and-coming hoopsters who hail from the same parts of the world.
Bosnian-born Njegos Sikiras took home the Away MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic’s International Contest Friday on the Barclays Center court, an accomplishment made all the more thrilling because he did it on Teletovic's home court. Darko Bajo and Antonio Jordano represented Croatia at the event which features the top U16 --16 and under-- players from all over the world.
Per the official Jordan Brand Classic website:
The 2011 NBA Draft was a monumental year for the Jordan Brand Classic International Game as three former players were selected in the first round. Enes Kanter (Turkey) went No. 3 to the Utah Jazz, Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania) was picked No. 5 by the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets selected Nikola Mirotic (Spain) with the No. 23 pick.
Sikiras, Bajo and Jordano -- all 16-year-olds -- were the top three scorers for the Black team, but the White ultimately pulled away in the final minutes for a 63-58 victory.
Bajo, a bruising 6’7" forward, finished with seven points, seven boards and one ferocious block toward the end of the opening quarter. He also nearly tore down the rim on a coast-to-coast dash, but the defender wisely fouled him.
Jordano, a sweet-stroking 6’2" combo guard, wound up with eight points and a pair of triples.
It was Sikiras who shined the brightest, though, on the same day that Teletovic was cleared for basketball activity and Bogdanovic was named Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month. Big day for the Balkans at Barclays.
"I’m very pleased that I became MVP on the court Mirza plays on," Sikiras told NetsDaily through a translator. When asked if he felt pressure playing on his idol's home turf, the 6’6" forward said he shook off some early nerves. "At the start, yes. But after I relaxed, no. Just played basketball."
Sikiras, who likened his game to Kevin Love -- "he is like me, shooting and penetrating" -- averaged 8.6 points and 5.3 rebounds in the U16 European Championships last year. He scored 16 points in a one-point victory over Bajo and Jordano’s Croatian team on August 20.
Bajo didn’t score in that game, but he was a formidable presence on both ends at the JBC. He looks at Bojan Bogdanovic in the same light Sikiras views Teletovic.
"I really like Bogdanovic," Bajo said in crisp English. "He is my idol. I would like to meet him….He actually sent me a jersey."
When asked about Bogdanovic’s recent 28-point explosion, which almost single-handedly carried the Nets into the playoffs, Bajo’s face burst into a proud smile: "It was amazing."
The forward said he tries to emulate Bogdanovic and Kevin Durant when working on his own game, and adds that there is "a lot to improve."
Even with his hero thriving in Brooklyn, Bajo said that he isn’t thinking too much about the NBA.
"I’m not currently focusing on the NBA," he said. "I just look at my personal development. So I just want to develop and we will see. Maybe in the future someday."
Bogdanovic hasn’t watched Bajo and Jordano yet, but he hopes to soon.
"I know they have talent, but I never really watched them," Bogdanovic told NetsDaily. "They’re still young so I really hope I get a chance to see them. I mean, they’re some of the best in Croatia so I hope I can get to see them."
Jordano was honored when he heard what Bogdanovic said. The teenage combo guard constantly keeps track of how his favorite Nets are doing.
"I am monitoring especially Bogdanovic, who is the idol for every kid in Croatia," Jordano said through a translator. "And also Teletovic, because he is coming from our neighborhood."
Of course, though, Jordano looks at Petrovic as his ultimate hero.
"He was an incredible player," Jordano said of the late Nets icon. "He is still the idol for many basketball kids in Croatia, and everyone in Croatia wants to be like him and wants to practice like he practiced, very hard, while he was a basketball player."
These kids are just 16 years old, but they’re worth keeping an eye for Brooklyn. By the time they are eligible for the draft -- 2021 -- the Nets should be fully stocked with a first and second round pick.