Dribble. Dribble. Eyes to the clock. Through the legs. Launch. Splash. Serbia up three. Three seconds left.
The moment between ball bouncing on wood and shot landing in net could define Milos Teodosic for the rest of his life. But they won’t, because he’ll do it again. The same way everyone has their favorite Pistol Pete move or their favorite Robert Horry gamewinner, there will come a time when you’ve got to pick a Milos moment and stick with it. Even at the age of 23, he’s got that all-star swagger which lets him be loose even in the tightest moments. Don’t believe me? Take a peek at the image down and to your right. That’s the look on his face after hitting a 30-foot to send his team to the semifinals. If Milos keeps it up, there might be a few handfuls to choose from. For reasons beyond his control, we may never see any of them decide the outcome of an NBA game.
Now before we get any deeper into this, let me acknowledge that the NBA is neither the end all nor the be all of the basketball universe. It’s the most revered league in the world and has more talent per capita than any other, but that doesn’t make it the lone proving ground for ballers who’d like to develop a reputation. The last 365 days of Milos Teodosic’s life are living proof of that: A Eurobasket Silver, an All-Eurobasket first team nod, a Euroleague MVP Award and now the shot of the tournament to eliminate the World and European Champion Spaniards. Not bad.
But the buzz last night in press row wasn’t surrounding the floppy-haired Serb; it was the guy he was guarding, Ricky Rubio. And while conversations on Twitter, in forums and around dinner tables where I’ve sat centered around the Spanish point guard’s NBA readiness, Milos’ name escapes our tongues when talk switches gears to the Association. Why is this?
For starters, he’s never been drafted and nobody owns his rights. He never got the early attention from international talent scouts who thought he was too slow, couldn’t defend, or maybe just didn’t show much room for improvement. Serbia didn’t even qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics so he—unlike Rubio—couldn’t make an impression while the world was watching. Serbia doesn’t have quite the trendy ring to it as Spain and while the Gasol brothers, Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez, Fran Vazquez and even Victor Claver have captivated this generation’s mock drafters, Serbia’s golden generation is just now straightening into a sprint. Players like Teodosic and Novica Velickovic rounded into form slightly later than prognosticators had hoped, turned 22 and suddenly became less appetizing. The reality is, even if head coaches would prefer a solid ballplayer to score 10-13 off the bench—a role Teodosic could fill—general managers would rather invest in a raw, young body who might someday gain 20 pounds and start knocking down jumpers. Every now and then it works out (I, for one, am on the Rubio bandwagon), but overall this approach leaves many an NBA talent out of the league and making a living in Europe or, God forbid, the D-League.
I’m sure anyone who took notice of his late-game exploits has considered phoning up his agent, Marc Cornstein, to check on the Olympiacos guard’s availability. If they don’t, it’s not because they can’t track him down: Cornstein represents over a dozen current or former NBA players including fellow Serbs Nenad Krstic and Darko Milicic. And if the teams do come calling, would Teodosic even listen? I don’t think he should. If he’s learned anything from the travails of established stars like Juan Carlos Navarro and Sarunas Jasikevicius, he’ll see that trading in European stardom for NBA ambiguity is an exchange that doesn’t always go over smoothly. And though Navarro was 27 and Jasikevicius 29 when they made their journeys to the Grizzlies and Pacers, Milos’ early success on both the club and international levels have sent him down a similar path as the two legends mentioned before him. He’s still years away from seeing eye to eye with those two greats, but his potent combo of skills and arrogance will inevitably draw some comparisons, especially if he continues to work hard at his craft.
And if only one continent wants to give him a fair shake, he should continue to reward it with incredible basketball.