Many wondered how Orlando Magic rookie Mario Hezonja would adjust to life in the NBA. But it seems that the Croatian just wanted to get away from the Liga Endesa.
The Dubrovnik native spent four seasons at Barcelona, claiming a Liga Endesa title in 2014, but the 20-year-old only averaged 4.7 points in that period and never really settled into a proper rotation, eventually falling out of coach Xavi Pascual’s plans toward the end of his time with the Catalan club.
So when the moment came that Hezonja’s name was called out in the NBA Draft last year, many wondered if he had the maturity to cope in the league, as a lot of people questioned his professionalism in the Liga Endesa.
But where players, most notably like Dario Saric at Anadolu Efes use Europe to hone their skills to progress to the NBA, Hezonja flipped it the other way, as his maturity and general confidence seems to have come in the NBA and not Europe.
Hezonja went as far to say that he wasn’t even a fan of playing in Europe, especially the Liga Endesa, considered the second best basketball league in the world.
“I didn’t hate the ACB,” he says.
“I just didn’t like the organisation of the teams, how everything goes, the style of everything, I just had a problem with it but I feel more comfortable in the NBA than the ACB.”
And Orlando are embracing the Croatian international’s upbeat style of play and giving him a chance to play some minutes off the bench, rather than relegate him to the D-League, a fate some were expecting him to end up.
“He’s a good kid,” Magic team-mate Evan Fournier said.
“He’s progressing with the team well, finding his role and is helping us lots. He’s adjusting to the league really well.
“It’s a different world, definitely,” Hezonja said when asked about the differences he noticed in the NBA compared to the Euroleague.
“It’s ten times more faster, the guys are quicker and stronger and it’s very different.”
Hezonja still has lots to learn and that will come in time, but he is taking advantage of the court time that Magic coach Scott Skiles is presenting to him. The Croatian is second among this season’s rookie class in three-point shooting and is just happy to help the team.
“I just want to help [the team] as best as I can,” Hezonja commented. “We set some goals for this season, and we were doing a great job after some losing seasons that we had before, we are doing a great job, so I am happy that I can help.”