VALENCIA (EuroBasket/FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Breathtaking.
There is no other way to describe the first performance in the Liga Endesa of 20-year-old Bojan Dubljevic, the pride of Podgorica who opened his Spanish account with Valencia Basket on Sunday by scoring a game-high 19 points in a rout of Mad-Croc Fuenlabrada.
The 2.05m forward made it look easy, hitting one three-pointer after another.
He finished five of six from long range.
When coach Velimir Perasovic removed him from the game with five minutes to go and Valencia was well on top, the crowd erupted with the sort of applause that made hairs on the back of necks stand up.
Dubljevic also recognized the fans with a huge wave before sitting down.
Valencia have just said good-bye to their favorite son, Spain international Victor Claver, who joined the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers.
But Dubljevic’s performance was reassuring.
It was effectively a statement that life goes on in Valencia post-Claver, that performances in La Fonteta will continue to be at the very highest level with players like Dubljevic now in the fold.
That Dubljevic played well would have surprised none of the basketball experts because he is a huge talent.
This summer, in the Qualification Round for EuroBasket 2013, Dubljevic played in all 10 of Montenegro's national team’s games as they cut down the opposition in every single contest.
After dropping 25 points on the Slovak Republic in the last qualifier, he had an average 12.2 per game.
Even before this summer, Dubljevic had caused a stir in Spain.
At the 2011 U20 European Championship in Bilbao, one of the best and most competitive youth tournaments ever staged on the continent, Dubljevic averaged 22.4 points and 9.7 rebounds and earned a place on the all-tournament team with Nikola Mirotic (Spain), Furkan Aldemir (Turkey), Alessandro Gentile (Italy) and Evan Fournier (France).
If that performance in the Basque country served as an announcement that another superb talent was among us, then his displays for Buducnost in the 2011-12 Eurocup campaign confirmed it.
He played a major part in helping Buducnost reach the Quarter-Finals where they faced none other than Valencia Basket, the team that was so impressed that they made it a priority to sign him.
Dubljevic had scored 15 points and corralled eight rebounds in the first leg of their Quarter-Final against Valencia, a 75-71 Buducnost win in Podgorica.
Then Dubljevic had 17 points and five boards in the second leg in Spain, an 85-63 win for Valencia.
Having travelled to the sunny coast of Spain, Dubljevic never hesitated when the opportunity arose to join the club that won the 2010 Eurocup and finished runners-up last season.
“I'm really happy to have come to a big club in the best league in Europe,” he told FIBA.com.
“I'm really have to have come here, a good team.”
There is another good reason for Dubljevic to have moved here.
“Of course, the sun gives me good, positive energy,” he said.
“I've come to one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.”
In Montenegro, the fans no longer have a chance to watch their burgeoning talent with Buducnost.
Yet they did have several opportunities to see him in action for the Montenegro senior team.
This summer, more than any other since the country gained its independence, was the most significant in the nation’s basketball history.
The team was supposed to be shorthanded in the Qualification Round and in danger of missing next year’s EuroBasket, but they put together the finest campaign of all the sides that battled for spots in Slovenia.
Twice Montenegro won against Serbia, Israel, Estonia, Iceland and the Slovak Republic.
“We had great results with the national team, winning 10 games - it was really incredible,” Dubljevic said.
“We didn't have very good players like Nikola Pekovic (Minnesota Timberwolves) and (Nikola) Vucevic (Orlando Magic), but we had a very good team and we won.”
Dubljevic was there for the most famous moment in Montenegro basketball history, too, at the Belgrade Arena on 18 August.
Serbia led 71-70 with four seconds remaining after a made free-throw by Milos Teodosic.
Montenegro inbounded the ball to another of their youngsters, Nikola Ivanovic, and he dribbled close to midcourt before letting fly with a long, two-handed shot that swished and gave the visitors victory.
“This was a really, really important game for us,” Dubljevic said, looking back.
“The three-pointer of Nikola Ivanovic gave us the belief and everything came together.
“Nobody had believed in us, but we believed we could go to the European Championship in Slovenia.”
The great teacher
Dubljevic looked a natural against Fuenlabrada, sinking three-pointers the way most shooters make lay-ups.
There was no hesitation in his shot and every release was smooth, and true.
There is often a coach who deserves much of the credit for a player’s development and Dubljevic doesn’t hesitate when asked if someone had made a huge difference with his perimeter game.
“Coach did,” he said. “Dejan Radonjic, the coach of Buducnost.
“He told me to shoot three-pointers.
“In the first season (at Buducnost), I took just one but in the second, I took more and made them and now I'm a three-point shooter.”
Anyone can see that Dubljevic is not the finished article.
“I need to be quicker,” he pointed out.
“Everything in my game must be better.”
But Dubljevic does so many things well already, especially with his jumper, that NBA scouts are no doubt sizing up his potential.
FIBA Basketball World Cup
In two years, Dubljevic could find himself spending the summer in Spain again, only this time with the senior national team.
Montenegro will go into next year’s EuroBasket in Slovenia looking to prove that this year’s run in the Qualification Round was no fluke.
What would be a greater testament to nation’s love of hoops than for its national team to qualify for the very first FIBA Basketball World Cup?
“Of course,” he said, when asked if his aim is to reach the World Cup.
“The national team is really, really important to the country of Montenegro.”
No team can afford to look past Montenegro at next year’s qualifying event in Slovenia.
If anything, they’re going to be even better than this summer.
“I think because with Nikola Pekovic and Vucevic coming back, the best players in Montenegro, I think we can make good results next year,” Dubljevic said.