At the 2011 Eurobasket, Saric was part of the tournament’s under-18 all-star game in Kaunas, the day before the final between Spain and France.
There were no experience lessons though from that game, Saric insists.
“It’s one game, it’s not big for experience,” Saric explained. “It’s not long for even some experience for the other games in my life. It is just one game.”
Dreaming of a chance to play for his nation in Lithuania that year, Croatia were eliminated at the group stage that featured Finland, FYR of Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece. Two years later, Saric is here with the senior men’s side, and already he has helped Croatia advance to the second round of Eurobasket where they began with a comprehensive 88-63 win over Finland. For Saric, a former 2011 Nike International Junior Tournament MVP, he compiled stats of eight points, shooting 80 percent from the field [4/5], grabbed six rebounds and five assists.
It is extremely easy to forget that he is still only 19-years-old, but Saric is a confident man – and to him – playing at Eurobasket is where he belongs.
“I am here [at EuroBasket] because I can play at this level,” he says. “With these players, with my team-mates it’s a great experience for me and big confidence for other games.”
Despite that confidence, Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa admits that the prodigy still has rough edges to smooth out, but his position as a future star in Croatian basketball, especially on an international scale is secure.
“For Dario Saric, it’s very simple, he is part of the team, game-by-game getting confidence and playing better and better,” Repesa said.
“I am very satisfied that he is improving because he has a lot of talent, he can make a difference definitely. At this level, it doesn’t matter that he is 19-years-old but definitely he is the future of our basketball and he is ready to get an important role and position of our team.”
Away from the ball, he has worked hard to perfect his craft. No doubt his basketball IQ is above what you would expect from a normal 19-year-old. He withdrew his name from the NBA draft in order to be fully ready for the NBA itself, afraid of being relegated to the bench or spending the majority of his time in the NBA D-league, a mature decision, knowing he has time on his side.
Repesa is aware of the weaknesses in Saric’s game and is seeing improvement from him in this tournament.
“Until this game [against Finland] I wanted him to improve offensively but he played very disciplined, really smart, moving the ball well,” Repesa said. “We resolved all trap situation in two-on-two game, we resolved all trap situations in the low post, forming every time for good shots, some they missed but that’s part of the game until now. He was perfect, how I want to see.”
It was slightly different at junior level; offensively, Saric was every opposing team’s main target. The player they zeroed in on. At the 2012 Nike International Junior Tournament, Saric averaged 25.3 points with KK Zagreb a game but his role in the senior levels has changed. The youngster is aware of that.
“I’m learning,” Saric admits. “I’m learning to play without the ball. I try to play like a worker player, like a guy who creates. He must see all the players on the court. I must be in the whole of my position.
“It’s hard because then I had the ball every time in my hand and now I play with out the ball, it’s hard in the beginning, but now as it’s my position, I must play like that.”