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Luka Dončić has always been a record-setting genius, even at the young age of 13

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Two days after his stunning 60-point triple win, Luka Donjic He steps into a small room outside the home locker room at the American Airlines Center and notices that my laptop has opened to his teenage highlights.

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So far, Dončić’s emotional high has eclipsed his most impressive career performance to date. He long overdue his tying shot celebration looked closer to Coffee stirs forward quickly. away from He walks next to the TV Where she likened him to the greats of all time. Now, he seems more bored, more focused on snoozing before his next game this evening than reliving the previous one.

60 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists vs New York Knicks — which included a game-winning shot, a historic comeback win in overtime, and the first 60-20 triple-double in league history — became just another record in a career filled with them, as far as he can remember.

This is why one brief answer Dončić gave in his post-game press conference that evening stood out: his response to his question of when he last scored 60 points at any level. Although this total set him NBA His career has been high, he’s definitely done it before, at some point in his career, with all he’s accomplished.

right?

He said “never”.

Now, with Dončić standing in this small room usually reserved for a pre-match chapel, I asked him about his previous personal best. It was a game that happened more than a decade ago, and old Slovenian coaches and old European scouts alluded to it when asked to confirm if he had scored 60 goals before. Do you remember that?

Not very well, he admits, but he did.

And with the striking features of his two younger children playing in the background of this room, he’s making an observation.

“It’s mostly the same way I play now,” he says.

Of all the records Dončić broke that evening, there was still one more: the most he ever scored in a match in his career. It was a 54-point performance at age 13, a personal best that stood for nearly 11 years.

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Slovenia’s immense passion is Luka Doncic’s poised for stardom


It happened in an international under-13 tournament called the Torneo Lido di Roma, or Shores of Rome tournament. Although Dončić rarely played with his age group, his competition in this tournament was his peers.

Olimpija Ljubljana, Slovenia’s most prominent basketball club based in the country’s largest city and capital, has a system in which coaches work with young players in three-year cycles. He wasn’t just someone made for the amazing Dončić. when is He arrived for his first training session with the club At the age of eight, it took him 16 minutes before he was transferred to the under-12 team.

This is how Jerni Smolnicar, the newly appointed coach of the under-13 team, is already familiar with Donjić. He had just finished his run with the generation of boys born in 1996, where Doncic, born in 1999, usually played. Torneo Lido di Roma was the first of Smolnikar’s games with the new generation he was assigned to, and Dončić joined it.

“This team (didn’t) train much together,” says Gjerni Smolnicar, who coached the team. “But (Dončić’s) dominance was at a very high level even at that time, so we had great ambitions to win.”

The tournament, a six-hour drive from Ljubljana, was hosted on the outskirts of Rome, and there were more family members than fans in the crowd. Smolnicar recalls how his players would huddle around smartphones, which had become ubiquitous, using online translators to overcome the language barriers they had with their Italian rivals.

“Italian and Slovenian, these are two completely different[languages],” says Smolnicar. “I remember the kids, everyone had smartphones except me. I still have this Nokia phone.”

Cultural differences made no difference when Dončić was at court. Even the various basketballs — the Italian youth leagues feature a ball smaller than the one the Slovenes used at home — didn’t bother him. Dončić dominated throughout the 16-team tournament, tallying 29 points and 15 rebounds in the semifinal championship game against Italy’s Lazio.

“The anticipation of Luka’s playing was getting bigger,” says Smolnicar. “In the finals, everyone was cheering for him, and the locals were cheering for him. He was like a star. Within two days he was a star.”

That summer, after months away from the tournament, Dončić decided to move to Spain and join Real Madrid’s youth academy. The club had already expressed interest in him, but Dončić and his family were still unsure if it was the right move to do so soon.

“I decided (at) the last minute,” said Donjic. the athlete Last month, “because I didn’t even know whether I wanted to know or not.”

Whether he knew it at the time or not, this championship game made it clear that he was right to eventually join Real Madrid and start the journey that led him to basketball stardom. Dončić led Olimpija Ljubljana to a 104-76 victory in that final and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. He finished with 54 points and, of course, a triple-double.

There is a six-minute, 10-second video posted on April 10, 2012, one day after Dončić’s championship performance, that shows every basket he made.

The 13-year-old Dončić doesn’t quite look like he does now, of course. “I was a little older than everyone there,” he says. He has already grown to 5-foot-11 with obvious physical advantages.

However, the video shows a teenage player whose Luka Donjic is still unmistakable. He runs around the defenders to throw soft buoys. He throws a hook that goes over his shoulder for jumpers. Tossing dimes around the back. He even dribbles through the legs of a defender in his own backcourt.

“It’s really amazing that he scored this 54 as easily as he scored that 60,” says Smolnikar. “If you look, Luca was playing very similar to how he is now.”

When Dončić moved to Madrid soon after, he returned to face players much older than him. He began training with the first team at the age of 15, made his Real Madrid debut one year later, and began receiving interest from international scouts and, eventually, senior front-office officials.

“(He had) a short youth career,” says Robert Carminati, an Italian who was Mavericks I worked for a long time Scouts in Europe. “Luka played a few matches (for the youth) as a teenager.”

What seemed impossible – that Dončić had never scored 60 before – seems logical in this context. As Donjic himself says: “I always played with the older kids.” This Italian Championship, which took place more than a decade ago, was probably the only time in Dončić’s career where he actually faced players of his age.


Matteo Garzia remembers this tournament he played in for another reason.

When Dončić was named MVP, Garzia was awarded the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament. A photo was taken of him and Dončić, each wearing their medals, the Slovenian towering over the 13-year-old Italian. Several years ago, Garzia stumbled upon this very photo and Post it online With a sarcastic comparison of their posts. Partly wrote:

Luka Doncic: 1 European Championship Gold, 1 Euroleague, 3 Spain titles, 1 NBA Rookie of the Year, plays with the Dallas Mavericks, averages 29.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 9 assists per game, his shooting percentage is 48%, before he signs a deal with 50 million. Jordan, has 3.5 million followers on Instagram and is still a down to earth guy.

Matteo Garzia: 1 call-up to the Regional Team, 1 MVP from the Livor Championship, I play for Alvisian Youth in Venice in Serie D, averaging 10 points and 0 rebounds per game.. I didn’t get paid, I paid $50 for a medical I have a pair of Jordans that I paid $160 for. I have 732 followers on Instagram and I am still a humble guy.

Dončić Garzia didn’t remember when he showed the photo. He’s grown taller and won more prominent awards since they appeared together. He’s old enough to tell the TV cameras he needs a “recovery beer” — “an IPA,” he told me, “just one, and then I went to sleep” — after his 60-point performance last month.

Garzia says he still smiles whenever he’s asked about that photo. The highlight of his basketball journey might just be another almost forgotten record for Dončić in a career filled with them. But even though Garzia is now cheering Dončić through his TV screens and live streams on the Internet, he likes to be remembered as the 13-year-old competitor who stood after him as a teammate.

“We were just two kids who loved playing basketball,” he wrote in a text message. “I think that’s the true beauty of this great sport, these once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime sliding doors that will give you a memory that will last forever.”

(Photo illustration: Sam Richardson/The Athletic; original photo by Francesco Richieri/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images


More coverage by Luka Dončić from Team Cato

January 4, 2023: How the NBA Tried – and Mostly Failed – to Stop Luka Donjic

December 28, 2022: Luka Dončić, The History of the NBA and Trying to Understand Greatness

October 19, 2022: Luka Donjic the best player? Here’s how he can do it, and why the Mavericks need him

May 20, 2022: Slovenian legend Luka Dončić reached new heights in the 2022 Qualifiers

May 16, 2022: Luka Dončić and the Mavericks aren’t just the future of the NBA. They arrived

August 25, 2020: ‘Son of Slovenia’: How Luka Doncic’s native countryman celebrates his debut

March 11, 2020: ‘Luca Does Magic’: How Dallas Discovered Its Next Star Away From The World

October 23, 2019: Slovenia’s immense passion is Luka Doncic’s poised for stardom

February 19, 2019: Luka Doncic’s stride is not just his signature shot, but a glimpse into his unique athleticism

December 24, 2018:These are the shots he takes every day: ‘How Luka Doncic learned to make impossible shots

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