My Personal Experiences watching the 1994 Croatian NT – Part 1
Written by Nick Ruzich
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 20:34
Despite only seeing the Croatian NT playing twice in person, I believe I might be a curse.
Exhibit 1 – 1994 World Championships in Toronto
For those who remember, leading up to the tournament everyone believed that a Dream Team II – Croatia gold medal match up was inevitable. After all, Lithuania had failed to even qualify for the tournament, and defending European champion Germany was missing Detlef Schrempf and Christian Welp.
Led by Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja, as well as the shot blocking and rebounding of Stojan Vrankovic and Arijan Komazec coming into his own as a scorer, Croatia did nothing to show that they wouldn’t be a finalist heading into the semi-finals by going 6-0 thorough the first two rounds.
Radja was averaging 23.5 PPG, Komazec 18.9 PPG, and Kukoc, despite not scoring a lot, was averaging an incredible 8.5 assists per game. Being 16 years old at the time, I wasn’t able to make it to any of the preliminary games. My brother had been to two games, against Australia and Canada, where the crowd support was so pro-Croatia you would have thought that the games were being played there.
Local Fan Support I finally got to go to a game, getting tickets with my dad and some others to go to the semi-final game against Russia at the Skydome (now Rogers Centre). Everyone was confident heading into the game that Croatia would pull it out. Well, we all know how it turned out: Croatia struggled with their shooting, and despite making some good runs, never held the lead and lost 66-64.
Radja shot 4-16 (and 8-14 from the line), Kukoc was 2-8 with only 2 assists, and despite leading the team with 22 points, Komazec shot 2-10 form 2-point range. Needless to say I was shocked. Of course they managed to beat Greece for the second time to win the bronze, so they finished the tournament at 7-1 and their only loss was the one game I attended.
Of course, this was the second of three major tournaments in a row that they lost a semi-final game that they were expected to win, so maybe I’m not the only one who feels like a curse. Croatian NT starting lineup (from my view in the upper deck)
My Personal Experiences watching the Croatian NT – Part 2 – 1996
Written by Nick Ruzich
Friday, 11 December 2009 16:14
TONI KUKOC BREAKS HIS FINGER BEFORE 1996 ATLANTA OLYMPICS: In an exhibition game in Hamilton, Ontario vs. Canada on July 9th, 1996, Toni Kukoc hits two straight threes before stealing the ball and starting a fast-break that ends with a dunk by Dino Radja. Kukoc broke a finger when he stole the ball, putting into doubt his participation at the 96 Olympics.
My brother heard that before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Croatia was going to play a few exhibition games in North America, including a couple games against Canada. We decided to get tickets for the game in Hamilton on July 9th. My awkward teenage self standing behind (from left) Damir Mulaomerovic, Arijan Komazec (in the back row), new NT coach Josip Vrankovic, Zan Tabak, Toni Kukoc and Stojan Vrankovic (in the middle row) during another exhibition game before Croatia vs. Canada.
Croatia was once again led by Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and Arijan Komazec, as well as Zan Tabak coming off his first year with the Toronto Raptors. You might ask yourself how I could be a curse at an exhibition game, especially one that they ended up winning 82-72. Well let me take you to about 8 minutes into the first half. With Canada leading 15-14, Toni Kukoc hit an open 3 to take the lead.
Vladan Alanovic then stole the inbounds pass and found Kukoc for another three. At this point, the mostly pro-Croatia crowd finally had something to cheer about. On the ensuing trip down the court, Kukoc stuck his hand out to intercept a Canadian pass, starting a fast break. After passing behind his back to Komazec, who promptly returned the ball back, Kukoc again passed behind his back to the trailing Dino Radja for a thunderous dunk that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
Soon after, a timeout was called and the crowd continued to cheer throughout the break. But once the game started up again, Kukoc surprisingly stayed on the bench. Sitting in the second row on the opposite side of the court, my brother and I noticed that Toni seemed to be favouring his hand, soaking it in a cup of ice. As the game went on it became obvious that he wasn’t going to return, and he eventually changed into street clothes by the end of the game.
Toni Kukoc during warmups before the injury over the next few days we learned that he had broken a bone in his hand, and there was talk that he might miss the Olympics completely, which would obviously be a blow to the teams chances. Although he did end up playing, including one of his best games with the NT in the loss to Lithuania (33 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists), the broken bone did affect his shooting. He only shot 27% from three-point range, including 1 for 7 in their fateful quarterfinal loss to Australia.
So I have watched two games and two bad things have happened. I haven’t watched them since (mostly since I live in Canada), but if I ever do get the chance I will tempt fate and watch them again…unless it’s a championship game.Other notes from this game:- Steve Nash, who was drafted in the first round of the NBA draft by Phoenix a few weeks before, attended the game but did not dress.
My brother and I had a chance to meet him and get a picture. Little did we know that we had just met a future 2-time NBA MVP. Jamal Magloire, another Canadian in the NBA who never played an official game with the Canadian NT for various reasons, suited up in this exhibition game for a rare appearance wearing the Canadian colours. It was the summer before his first year at the University of Kentucky.
-There was a mini scuffle between the two teams late in the game when Zan Tabak and Keith Vassel of Team Canada got tangled up and Tabak through an elbow while they were on the ground. The benches cleared but no further punches were thrown. Steve Nash, who was speaking with the TV broadcasters at the time, joked that he was ready to jump over the table and take down 7’1 Stojan Vrankovic (who was standing nearby in street clothes).
R.I.P. Nikola Jović (1996-2022) Tribute