By: Freaknick/@euro_adventures

The English version is at the bottom, but in a showing of good faith to the best fans here, we’ll start with the original version as published on RTV Slovenija. Translated from English by my good Slovenian friend and journalist, Slavko Jerič:

Ima Slovenija na drugi tekmi SP-ja v Turčiji proti ZDA možnosti za presenečenje? Ameriški novinar Nick Gibson meni, da se odgovor skriva v besedah Goran Dragič.

Kdor koli se ima za ljubitelja NBA-košarke, prav gotovo pozna Dragiča. Ob tem imenu se spomnim njegove odlične sezone, nekaterih krasnih potez, predvsem tiste iz končnice, ko je neverjetno ukanil Dereka Fisherja, ki se mu najbrž še zdaj vrti. O 26 točkah proti San Antoniu pa sploh ne bom govoril. Dragič prinaša tisto dodatno energijo, za katero bi vsaka ekipa in vsak trener ubijala,” je pogovor z navdušenjem začel novinar Euroleague Adventuresa.

Dragič postaja vodja te ekipe
Je Gibson videl kakšno razliko med Dragičevimi igrami v dresu Phoenixa in v dresu reprezentance? “Seveda, zdi se mi, da igra še bolj celostno, večdimenzionalno. Njegova igra ni tako hitra, je pa še veliko bolj zrela in odgovorna. Memi Bečirovič se najbrž zaveda, da Jaka Lakovič ni več v tako vrhunski formi, kot je bil lani ali nekaj sezon prej. Zdi se mi, da vsi igralci v zelenem vidijo Gorana kot vodjo te ekipe, on pa jim zaupanje vrača s sijajnimi podajami. Na tekmi proti Tuniziji jih je zbral osem, a prav gotovo ste videli, da nekajkrat njegovi soigralci podaje iz lahkih položajev niso pretvorili v koš, v tem primeru bi jih bilo še bistveno več.”

Kaj Gibson pričakuje od Dragiča danes ob 15.30? “Srečal se bo z 12 košarkarji, ki jih dobro pozna. V meni se poraja vprašanje: Bo mogoče pretiraval in poskušal pokazati vse spektakularnejše poteze? A sam mislim, da ne. To bo zanj pravi izziv.”

Nikakor ne igrajte hitre košarke
Kakšen recept priporoča Bečiroviču za čim boljšo tekmo slovenske dvanajsterice? “Slovenija si nikakor ne sme privoščiti hitre igre. Jasno je, da je to voda na ameriški mlin – igra na tempo je vedno ustrezala ameriškim košarkarjem. Sliši se preprosto, vem pa, da bo na parketu to težko uresničiti – vsiliti je treba svoj sistem igre in nikakor ne pasti v ameriški mlin hitre košarke. Vidmar, Brezec in Slokar morda niso najbolj okretni centri na planetu, a vsekakor bi bilo pametno, da bi selektor čim pogosteje poskušal pod košema igrati z dvema od njih. Morda v kakšnem trenutku tudi s tremi. Slovenija mora igrati nekoliko počasneje, umirjeno in paziti na skoke, predvsem v obrambi. Če bodo dalj časa blizu, bodo Američani morda postali nekoliko nervozni. Na SP-jih smo že videli, da potem kar naenkrat ne znajo več igrati košarke in se le zmedeno gledajo.”

Glavni izziv je igrati ekipno
Gibson se sicer bolj ukvarja z evropsko košarko, vsekakor pa dobro pozna tudi svojo reprezentanco. “Vsi so, morda z izjemo Tysona Chandlerja, še vedno zvezdniki v svojih ekipah v Ligi NBA. A trik na svetovnih prvenstvih se skriva v tem, da je včasih treba pogoltniti ponos in sprejeti vlogo, ki ti jo nameni trener. Vse z namenom, da tvoja reprezentanca zmaga. ZDA niso bile svetovni prvak že od leta 1994. Seveda se težava ne skriva v talentu, ampak v tem, da sprejmeš svojo vlogo. Če bo Američanom to uspelo tudi na drugi tekmi, potem mislim, da Slovenija nima nobene možnosti za zmago.”

Now in English:

Anyone who calls themselves an NBA fan surely knows Goran Dragic. His name often recalls images of ridiculous aerial displays or that spin move on Derek Fisher that leaves him dizzy to this day. He brings a dose of energy that any team would kill for. Alvin Gentry tells him to be aggressive, reckless even, and he obeys.

But anyone in the Abdi Ipekci Arena today witnessed a much more composed Goran Dragic. That Slovenian Green seems to slow him down and mature him mentally. Memi Becirovic knows that Jaka Lakovic, however legendary he might be, is not what he once was. And Goran knows that his teammates don’t see him as a shot of adrenaline; they think of him as their leader. On two memorable occasions tonight he passed up wide open threes to shovel it off to a teammate. The first time, Gasper Vidmar couldn’t hold on to the lob inside. The second, Bostjan Nachbar nailed a 20-footer from the baseline. Nachbar, a veteran and seasoned professional player, knows that in order for Goran to carry the weight of his country on his back, he needs to be able to trust his teammates. The maturation was beautiful to watch, and a real testament to Goran’s commitment to Slovenia and her chances of outperforming expectations.

And as Slovenia’s clash with the USA grows closer, my only question is this: will NBA Goran resurface once he shares the court with 12 players who know him well? Will he feel the pressure to make each play more spectacular than the last? Will he see the USA’s double teams as a challenge rather than as a weakness that can be exploited by simple, early ball movement? Every proud Slovenian wearing green in the stands should certainly hope not. Because while poise against Tunisia is nice, playing against Coach Krzyzewski’s revolving door of guards that are just as quick as him poses an entirely different problem.

In the face of a much more difficult test, it remains to be seen whether Slovenia will ditch their personality in favor of one dictated by the States. Slovenia cannot afford to get caught up in a tempo war, because that’s one they’ll surely lose. The key to beating this team is forcing them out of their plans and reeling them into yours. I know Vidmar, Brezec and Slokar aren’t the most versatile big guys around, but try a line-up using two or even three of them. No matter who’s on the floor for either team, there will always be a mismatch, but which way that mismatch leans depends on how the teams take advantage of them. If Slovenia goes big, it naturally slows down the game by limiting uncontested rebounds and keeping the USA from getting into their running game. Even though Dragic is a joy to watch in open-court situations, his 8 assists and 1 turnover today prove that he’s ready to be a playmaker for himself and for others, even if that means running halfcourt sets for a majority of his possessions.

And as for the USA, they seem to be following Dragic’s lead. With the exception of Tyson Chandler, every guy on this team is a star on his repspective roster back in the NBA. But here in FIBA, it’s about swallowing your pride and accepting the role that gives your country the best chance to win. We haven’t won this thing since 1994 and talent’s not the issue. The real problem is learning to not only accept a role, but to practice and master it, much as Dragic has. So if the Americans can flip the switch from ‘NBA’ to ‘FIBA’ and play with one another as well as they did tonight, Slovenia has no chance. But if Slovenia plays within itself and puts an early strain on the USA, there’s no telling how the USA might respond The traditional reaction has been to clear out and let one guy take it himself, a formula that has proven unsuccessful.

But Dragic’s new-found calm seems to have an unsettling effect on his opponents, and we’ll find out tomorrow if Dragic’s will is strong enough to ignore a personal challenge.