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For Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs, moments that pointed the way

Brooklyn Nets

Dzanan Musa was first supposed to play at Barclays Center back in April 2015 at the Jordan Brand Classic’s International Game, but he was cut. Not surprisingly, he was bummed until someone reached out to him. That someone was Biserka Petrovic, Drazen’s mother.

“After the game, I was like upset, sad, because I love so much basketball and it was the first time in my life I was thinking I’m not good enough for this,” said Musa.

“She poked me on my shoulder, and said ‘here’s the ball of Drazen Petrovic. You remind me of him when he was younger. So just keep going. This is nothing. You will succeed, believe me. Just believe in yourself.’ And she kissed me.

“That’s the most emotional conversation that I had in my life, with her. So I’m very, very thankful for that opportunity to meet her, to meet all of his friends, to meet his brother, to see how he went through all of this and to finally end up in the club where he played, it’s crazy.”

Musa and his rookie teammate, Rodions Kurucs, have had a lot of moments like that despite their youth —Musa is 19, Kurucs 20— writes Tom Dowd of the Nets official site in a series of pieces on the two rookies.

For Kurucs, it was a series of events with an older person, his grandfather who was a legend in Latvia.

“I asked him one day when I was younger, ‘what do you want? Where do you want me to go? How high?’ He said that it would be great if you played in the top Latvian league. I said, ‘OK, that’s good.’ Then after the Latvian team I showed off my skills in a next generation tournament and Barcelona saw me and signed me. He was really happy for that. Who would imagine that I would go that high?

“Now I’m here, he’s like, ‘I don’t have the words. I didn’t even imagine that you could go that high.’ I was going for that. That was my dream. That was my passion. I wanted to get here and to work here.”

And by “here,” Kurucs means Brooklyn, as he said the day after the Draft.

As Dowd points out, there are dissimilarities between the two players personalities and background but far more similarities.

Musa, the more effervescent, is younger by more than a year, but is far more experienced, playing big minutes for Cedevita the last three years while Kurucs, the quiet one, was consigned to the bench at F.C. Barcelona. Musa has been a leader for the Bosnian national teams, going back to 2015 when he almost single-handedly won the FIBA U16 championship for Bosnia. He is the go-to guy on the senior national team. Kurucs has played some on the Latvian junior national teams but never made the senior national team.

Also, Musa has been injury-free (other than a scare last weekend) while Kurucs has had two knee surgeries.

But one key similarity is how at very young ages —Musa at 11, Kurucs at 13— they both left home and became part of an intense training program to find and develop the best their countries had to offer. For both, it was a traumatic experience, as they told Dowd.

“Right now, if somebody was like, here you go, here’s a million dollars and you just go back to that time and live this through again, no,” said Musa. “Keep the money. And I will give you like five more million. It was very, very difficult. I will never forget that moment when my parents left me at the apartment when I was 11. They went with the car and I saw them, I’m waving, and as soon as they crossed the road and I couldn’t see them anymore I was running to my bathroom and I was crying for four hours, five hours straight.”

“Almost every night I was calling my mom to take me back,” said Kurucs. “She said if you want I’ll come and take you back, there’s no problem. But then my grandfather would say to me, ‘do you really want to come back or will you push through that and you’ll get what you want.’ I said, ‘all right I will stay here and work’. But still every night, he said to me the same words every night.”

Of course, it all worked out for both of them. Their paths crossed for the first time when as teenagers, they faced each other in a FIBA game between Bosnian and Latvian junior teams.

“Actually, my first game was against this guy with the national team,” Musa told the Nets media the day after the draft. “He kicked our ass. He scored against us like 20, 30 points. He dunked on us like eight times. So, I remember this guy.” (The boxsore is a little less dramatic, but Latvia did win.)

There were setbacks for both. Musa told Dowd about going from being a national hero at 16 to sitting on the bench in his professional debut.

“It was very, very, let’s say challenging for me,” said Musa. “That’s from the standpoint of you’re the best player in Europe at that age. You come into a team where you’re sitting on the bench all the time. It was tough. But I had that mental toughness to get over it. I think it helped me a lot for this particular now.”

Kurucs spoke at the rookie press conference back in June about how difficult it was in Barcelona where the club made a corporate decision to develop only those players who didn’t have NBA ambitions. Both he and Aleksandar Vezenkov, the Nets second rounder in 2017, knew they had the talent and motivation, but Barca controlled their fate.

He was diplomatic about the situation and his relationship with Alonso Sito.

“I was in a situation. I can’t say anything about coach Sito. I like him, like a person, like a coach. He’s a great coach. He gave me some opportunities, too, in some games. I appreciate that. I used my chances, and I was waiting for my moment. Maybe there is a little bit difference where I landed, but I’m happy I’m here.”

Indeed Kurucs (pronounced Cur-OOKS, by the way) and Musa (pronounced MOOSH-a) are now teammates and if not inseparable, joined by the fact that they —and Theo Pinson— will be the only rookies on the Nets extended roster.

It will be another challenge, like living in the aftermath of a war (Musa) or a Soviet occupation (Kurucs) or childhood trauma or playing, then not playing. Some of the challenge may play out at Nassau Coliseum or not. But they’ve been there before and got through it.