Misko Raznatovic is a European sports agent and one of the men who “discovered” Nikola Jokic early on and helped put him on the stage toward prominence. This week, Blic Sports’ Igor Velimirovic interviewed Raznatovic about Serbia’s fastest rising star. The profile provides a glimpse of Jokic’s rise in popularity in Serbia and his path toward the NBA. It also provides some interesting anecdotes about Jokic’s personality, including the time he gave himself tendinitis because he signed too many autographs for kids.
Stiffs reader 4ward provided us with a translation of the article and it is well worth the read. Editor’s note - this article is a translation from an interview conducted in Serbian. We have attempted to decipher the proper translation but may have missed the context or meaning in a place or two. We apologize if the translation fails in any way.
Check it out below.
The story of arriving to the serious basketball world is completely atypical for today, where modern and detailed scouting takes place even for kids from 10 years up, in a time when the most talented 15-year-olds are already in the notebooks of NBA scouts, says Miško Ražnatović, Jokic‘s agent and European’s most famous basketball manager.
HOW MIŠKO DISCOVERED JOKIĆ
How did you learn that in Sombor there‘s some big-kid guy, (who‘s to become a future NBA star), existed at all?
So it happened that as part of my Sunday morning routine, some 4 – 5 years ago I read the newspaper and noticed that a certain player in the junior team of Vojvodina‘ had 25 points and a similar amount of rebounds and an index rating of 50. Next Sunday, during the same routine, I was specifically searching for him in the papers and noticed a very similar production.
I called our main scout, Branimir Tadić (who is the one most responsible for Boban Marjanovic and Nikola Pekovic getting picked up by our agency) and asked him about this Jokic guy. To my great surprise, he didn‘t even know that this player existed. I insisted that he‘d check asap whether this center player (I figured that he was a tall guy since he would have around 20 rebounds) based his play and rebounding on strength since he was biologically more aged and taller than his contemporaries (which is often the case in this age) or rather that was resulting from talent.
Soon I received the info that his build and physique was meek and lousy and that this was a player who is overweight but that he‘s got great talent. I said to Tadija (a sports agent) that he should travel to Novi Sad (city in Serbia where team Vojvodina‘ is located) on the very next day and that he shouldn‘t return until the kid signs with the agency – which happened during that week.
The kid didn‘t even have a contract with Vojvodina (the small club he was playing for) since he never practiced with their first team so they never recognized his skill. He was about to reach 18 years of age in just a couple of months and therefore was free under very proper conditions so that there were no difficulties for him to change the club and get to the center of attention which provides a chance for such kids, namely the basketball club Mega Vizura.
HE ATE BUREK AND DRANK COCA COLA
How did Jokic’s basketball story with Mega begin?
He started to practice with the first team at once. After three practices, Dejan Milojevic said that he would be in the rotation in a month‘s time, which is where I told him to drop the ball and stop exaggerating. But, Dejan was right as Nikola played in the semifinals of the playoffs by June, playing over 25 minutes and being one of the most important players on the team and thus letting everybody know that there‘s a great player on the way.
Yet, a great amount of work during this first month and couple days was done by the conditioning coach Marko Ćosić, who didn‘t allow him to practice with the team in the first 15 days at all since he was in such bad physical shape (he couldn‘t do one single pushup) that he would have injured himself. Nikola‘s stay in Mega was truly specific and filled with lots of anecdotes and for all of us in the team he was a unique experience. For instance, it‘s rare for a team to happen that their best player is in fact a kid who just wants to play basketball, who doesn‘t take it seriously at all and who doesn‘t really want to be concerned with basketball on some days.
Yet, with a combination of method‚ good cop and bad cop (where Dejan was the good cop and I, of course, the bad cop) we succeeded at getting him to become somewhat serious about it, but not even close to the level at which we were used to in professional sports. I have to stress that his brother Strahinja had a key role in his success too – he was a serious talent and I don‘t know why he didn‘t succeed. Namely, Strahinja neglected his own private life, moved to Belgrade, lived with him and talked to him daily and had a big influence on Nikola changing certain habits and takes on life (like stopping to consume 2 litres coca cola and half a kilogram fatty burek for breakfast and much more).
Do you have many fun anecdotes?
We have actually witnessed his true nature on kids day, an event organized by the club where players were participating in some kind of basketball game with kids from 8 to 10 years of age and there were like hundreds of them. Nikola enjoyed this event more than them, jumping after the ball, doing all sorts of crazy stuff, throwing a second ball on the court, and then as a highlight at one go took off the head of the club‘s mascot koala, putting it on himself and then played that way for three minutes. Dejan and me just looked at each other and got to understand his view on things which we didn‘t comprehend. For example, Vasilje Micic, just 1 year older than Nikola, also participated in the same event but with a working attitude probably typical of someone who is about to be brought up for execution by shooting.
As you may know, Mega always organizes New Year‘s games in which players, sponsors, coaches, and management participate. Of course, Nikola was always very committed there and he was so aggressive on defense – which was of course never one of his characteristics – that I elbowed him heavily as he was trying to take the ball from me. I always used to say to him that the New Year‘s game and playing against me and my daughter Masa got him fired up more than the cup final game.
A popular anecdote is that before an important game would start I told him to close his eyes and imagine that on the other side of the court is me and my daughter Masa and that if he wins against us he‘d get choco cookies. But the funniest story during this 3 -4 years was how he obtained an injury when his team was introduced in Sremska Mitrovica. As it happened, Nikola was the team‘s most charismatic player for the kids and they all wanted to take photos and get his autograph. The result of him giving too many autographs was an inflammation of his right hand tendon and him missing seven days of practice as well as a couple of games…
Tell us something that readers of Blicsport don’t know about Jokic.
It is less known that Nikola was very near to signing a contract with Barcelona. They followed him for some time and arrived for final talks and to watch the game that took place in Sremska Mitrovica. We agreed on the transfer terms basically in detail and only thing left to do was to work out the last details next morning after the match.
That night, Nikola played his worst game since arriving in Mega and at the same time he had his most lethargic day of any of the lethargic days when he basically didin‘t want to move. It was more than horrible and Barcelona took a timeout to think it over a little bit. The talks went on, and in the meantime Arturas Karnisovas insisted on arriving in Denver and Nikola found himself in the NBA.
To cut it short, it wasn‘t meant for him to play in Barcelona and I‘m today of course very happy about that. Also, I think that he‘d play worse in Euroleague than in the NBA because the concept is different and he wouldn‘t have had the freedom he has now.
JOKIC IS PROOF THAT ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
What would you tell kids who want to follow Nikola‘s path?
I think that Nikola‘s story with the happy ending is very important for all kids who love basketball and dream about becoming a star one day. Based on this example, it‘s visible that it‘s totally possible that even if nobody has recognized your talent even until you‘re 17 years old and you play for a small junior team, you don‘t have an athletic build, you have a solid overweight, it‘s still possible that you become an NBA star if you have talent, put in dedicated hard work and of course have a little luck which is usually earned. It shows that it‘s not a tragedy that they don‘t invite you to junior/cadet national team and that you shouldn‘t be demoralized and surrender because of that.
It shows that in today‘s time all of that is possible to do despite not being physically dominant. The story is atypical but it could and must be the lighthouse for all kids who put in hours shooting at the basket behind the block in some small cities in Serbia just as he did in Sombor.
SEVEN BLICSPORT QUESTIONS FOR RAZNATOVIC ABOUT JOKIC
Nikola was chubby as a child, did his family members expect that he‘ll become such an athlete?
Nikola always had big support from his family. I mentioned already his relationship with his brother Strahinja but nobody expected this kind of success. I have to stress that Nikola started this season weaker but Strahinja wasn‘t in the US then. Somehow his arrival went hand in hand with Nikola‘s good form so much so that I‘d like to believe that this is connected and I told Strahinja not to move – at least until we sign the next contract (laughs).
What is Jokic‘s ceiling?
I think that Nikola has all the conditions to be remembered in Serbia‘s basketball history as the best tall player of all times. Statistics show that his production in the NBA in the first years is better than that of Divac and there‘s the possibility he‘ll reach and overtake him in the continuation of his NBA career and I sincerely hope that he‘ll be the first BeoBasket player at the All-Star game.
Will he be available for the National Team?
Nikola loves it very much to play for the national team and he was very delighted last summer (that he got to play). It‘s a fact that due to this he wasn‘t able to do some summer program on which the Denver team insisted and that the start of the season was weaker but that doesn‘t change the overall picture. For sure, in the coming years, it might happen that during one summer he won‘t be able to answer the call but I think that this will be really seldom and that Nikola will be available for Serbia‘s coach for the greater part of his career and that with full commitment and heart.
Is there anyone in Europe who has a stronger center tandem than Serbia, with Boban and Jokic?
The center tandem Bobi and Nikola who was paired at first through Dejan Milojevic in Mega which was already in the now distant year of 2012/2013 is dominant in Europe and I hope the basis for future gold medals. They know each other perfectly, they play together excellently and as friends they love each other.
Does his calm and shy nature bother you, is this a hindrance for his career?
Absolutely not, but I have to say that Nikola is only calm until he steps on the court. Then his calmness becomes secondary and very often he will get entangled with his opponent on the court or will provoke him. I believe you remember the acrobatic fall at the Olympic games when someone shoved him – if i‘m not mistaken one of the Croatian players.
Will Nikola earn much more than now in the coming seasons in America? Would he earn more in Europe?
The style that he plays, the results that he achieves as well as the tendency of salaries in the NBA show that much more yielding contracts are in store for Nikola but this is premature since there is no possibility for talks before summer 2018. In Europe he‘d earn considerably less.
What have you wished him for New Year?
As it happened both of us had a free afternoon in New York some 20 days ago and after a long period we had a little bit time to relax which ended with a ride in a carriage through Central park (horses are Nikola‘s big affinity) but without Zvonko Bogdan (laughs). Nikola let me know of some of his future plans and then I wished him that his horse dominates at the hippodromes in Serbia in 2017.
h/t to blicsport.rs