Basketball was the biggest thing in Croatia 20-25 years ago. The late Drazen Petrovic and other Croatian basketball stars, such as Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja, played in finals in 1992 Barcelona Olympics against original Dream Team. That game in Barcelona 23 years ago was hugely important for the new country of Croatia, torn up by war. It's basketball players were national heroes in Croatia.
The country's great result came in 1995, although that bronze medal in Eurobasket in Athens wasn’t considered as great, compared to the success of the team three years earlier. But Petrovic died tragically, Kukoc, Radja and others retired from the National team and Croatia stopped being relevant in European basketball.
In fact, Croatian basketball isn’t big deal anymore. In the capital of Zagreb even hockey games attract more people than basketball. Fans who remembered Petro, Kukoc and others fell in some kind of depression.
But in last couple of years one new generation arrived and many believe this group of guys is able to break this 20-year drought. This generation is led by Bojan Bogdanovic, the Brooklyn Nets star, who represents that thing that Croatia waited for years – born leader, proven in big games, not afraid to take responsibility in tough situations.
But Bojan is not alone. This Croatian roster is full of talent, such as Philadephia draftee Dario Saric, Orlando’s rookie Mario Hezonja, last year’s Indiana’s rookie Damjan Rudez, and other big stars in Europe, like Ante Tomic or Kruno Simon. With one of the best Croatian coaches in Velimir Perasovic, who played for Croatia vs The Dream Team in 1992, this Croatian team is capable for big things at upcoming Eurobasket. And in first round of Eurobasket Croatia plays at home, in Zagreb, in front of fans that have been waiting for so long.
‘We all have same expectations, we all have one goal. We all want to achieve something here, but it would be stupid from us to promise anything. There are at least six or seven teams with same goal, and France and Spain are in top of the list. After all, everything will be bring down to one game, in quarterfinals’, said Bogdanovic, as quoted in Croatian newspapers Sportske Novosti.
Quarter finals are main goal of Croatia. In last 10 years Croatia played in four quarter-finals, and came winning only once – in last Eurobasket 2013, when Bogdanovic was named first team All-Eurobasket.
Croatia will try to seize momentum in the first round on their homecourt in Zagreb. Their main opponent is Greece, an extremely strong team with few NBA players (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kosta Koufos and Nick Calathes) and with one of the best European players in years, Vassilis Spanoulis, their leader. Croatia and Greece are favorites for first place in their Group. A first place finish will bring a relatively easier opponent in eight-finals. After that all will depend on luck and inspiration of their stars. And Bojan is one of the biggest.