REGENSBURG (David Hein’s Eye on the Future) – The saga is over! The basketball world can rejoice! The savior can finally play! Okay, maybe that last bit is going overboard. But hoops junkies can once again look forward to Dario Saric playing basketball after the 18-year-old prodigy’s long drawn out contract drama has ended.
The Croatian, who is considered one of the absolute elite talents in Europe and a future NBA lottery pick, signed a four-year contract with Croatian club Cibona Zagreb with an NBA-out option after each of the years.
The move is good in many ways.
First of all, Saric can finally return to the court.
He last took shots competitively in August and September for Croatia’s EuroBasket 2013 qualifiers, showing he’s a man-child among men in averaging 9.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 19.3 minutes in six games.
He only appeared in six of Croatia’s eight qualification contests because his 2012 summer started by him dominating players his own age by leading Croatia to the gold medal at the 2012 European Championship. He was the overwhelming MVP choice with 25.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.6 blocks, guiding Croatia to the 2013 edition of the FIBA U19 World Championship – a tournament Saric played in 2011.
Then came the drama. His transfer from former team KK Zagreb on a five-year contract to Spanish side Gescrap Bilbao Basket was blocked over a buyout dispute. Despite Fenerbahce and Cedevita Zagreb being mentioned as top challengers, other clubs such as Anadolu Efes, CSKA Moscow and Unicaja Malaga were all considered in the running as well. Cibona eventually stepped up and agreed to pay the €550,000 (euro) buyout to KK Zagreb.
The move gives Saric a chance to continue to show his skills at a high level as Cibona play in the Adriatic League and – at least for the moment, still – in the Eurocup competition. Cibona are 0-3 in their Eurocup group and even three straight victories might not be enough to advance. But playing at Cibona means he can play big minutes – unlike if he had landed at a bigger team like Fenerbahce.
Saric also lands at a stable club with lots of different personalities to provide the Sibenik native with various points of view on the game.
Veteran Davor Kus has played for Croatia at the Olympics, FIBA World Championship and EuroBasket levels. Marin Rozic, Andrija Zizic and Pavle Marcinkovic both have played for Croatia in the past as well. The 22-year-old Croatian Tomislav Zubcic – a second round draft pick by the Toronto Raptors this year – can help Saric with the pressures involved with being a superstar talent. And the 16-year-old Marko Arapovic – who helped Croatia to bronze at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship – gives Saric a bit of different perspective in being a leader for younger top level talents.
One comment that Saric made at the media conference on Wednesday in Zagreb really summed it all up: “The whole process was really tiresome.”
Saric is still a young man – still not to turn 19 until April. At the end of last season he signed a five-year deal with Bilbao. After expecting a move to Spain for this season, he went through the disappointment and confusion of the FIBA arbitration court ruling in late October. Then there were weeks of him being pulled in so many different directions with different clubs making different offers.
But now the ordeal – which Saric himself called a “soap opera” – is over.
The move is also good for the NBA teams looking to draft Saric – he’s currently ranked 14th in the 2013 NBA mock draft rankings at DraftExpress.com. Not only will teams see Saric back on the court and how he develops, but they also know the contractual situation that’s in place and what they have to deal with.
All-in-all, Saric has finally been freed – he can continue his development. And Cibona can now sell number 9 jerseys with Saric’s name on them – at least as long as they have the savior, oops. Slipped out again. Great to see you on the court again Dario.
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