REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - The last time the basketball world saw Dario Saric, the 19-year-old Croatian sensation was starring as a point forward at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship, finishing second in the competition in scoring, rebounding and assists.
Fast-forward to EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia where Saric showed an outstanding understanding of the position he will be playing in the senior team, power forward, just months after being the main ball-handler for Croatia's U19 side.
Sure, look at Saric's numbers for the Semi-Finalists in Ljubljana and they aren't overwhelmingly impressive. But his stats don't tell the full story.
Playing in his first senior tournament, Saric averaged 5.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.9 assists and a team-best 0.7 blocks while shooting 47 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range.
But one statistic nobody keeps is number of teammates - and opponents - impressed.
Saric got out on the break and displayed his tantalising passing ability. There was the instance when he grabbed a rebound and threw a baseball pass the length of the court for an easy lay-up for a teammate.
He also showcased a fine spin move and driving lay-up down the right baseline. And Saric also showed that he can hit an important three-pointer in the fourth quarter.
All of these happened in one single game - Croatia’s Quarter-Final win over Ukraine.
This is Saric's second summer with the senior team after playing eight games in the EuroBasket qualification campaign last summer. Back then, he led the team in rebounding with 6.3 boards a game, while scoring 9.8 points, dishing out 1.7 assists and picking up 1.2 steals a game while shooting almost 60 percent from the field - as an 18-year-old.
The Sibenik native has already made huge strides. Don't believe just an observing journalist? How about a teammate of his then.
Croatian point guard Dontaye Draper has been seriously impressed with Saric.
"He's ridiculously talented. After spending two months with him and practising with him, it's rare to find a 6ft 10in (2.08m) power forward who can dribble and have court vision like he does," he said.
"That's what makes him a little bit different than any other kind of power forward. What I see as a point guard and how he plays so far, he can do a lot more but with this team he is just bringing the energy. It's scary."
Draper said Saric does whatever coach Jasmin Repesa asks of him - grabbing a rebound, getting a steal, whatever.
"He's a kid who has so much passion. He doesn't care. He will do it. He's not the type of player who will get rattled and not do it," said the Baltimore-born playmaker.
Draper said Saric will certainly land in the NBA, likely within three to five years. First, he said, Saric needs to really figure out how he's going to play.
"Right now he's playing on talent. But in five years when he really knows how he'll play - small forward or power forward - then it will be really scary. He's just a kid with talent now," he explained.
When asked which position he sees Saric playing down the road, Draper said it's different for him.
"He's not that crazy athletic NBA player, but his mind to play the game is totally different. He really can space the floor and beat a big man one-on-one and create open opportunities for everyone else. That will be big for him," the Real Madrid guard said.
"The court is bigger in the NBA, there will be more space to do what he wants to do. And that's going to help him a lot."
With EuroBasket 2013 over, Saric will now head to Croatian club Cibona where he will put into practice what he learned in Slovenia to take yet another step in his development.
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