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Mario Hezonja Dunk 2011

Mario Hezonja, Zagreb CO (photo by



A month ago best U16 born kids in Croatia played for cadet championship in the well organized and well visited small school gym Trnsko. As expected host BC Zagreb were led by young phenomenon Mario Hezonja took the title over Cedevita, while Feniks finished 3rd beating city rivals Dubrava. Here are some thoughts on players who played there.





Mario Hezonja 6’6” SG/SF – Next Josip Sesar?….We all hope not!


For those who don’t remember Josip Sesar was a brilliant talent who played for BC Zagreb and was projected to replace late NBA star Drazen Petrovic as the best European player. He never came close to standards Petro set in his brilliant career which was ended by a tragic incident. Many think it was because Josip’s approach to game. Where is Hezonja in that story? First things first. Mario is a spectacular young talent, type of player Croatia never had.


His combination of size, superb, athleticism and explosiveness for his positions seams almost unrealistic when we talk about Euro born kid. That’s not all, Mario also poses shooting ability, decent ball handling which still is the work in process, scoring instincts along with that the degree of „nastiness“ that is often looked up in players as one of the keys of their success. Hi also showed unorthodox, but successful floater in the lane which is very important tool in today’s basketball, couple of  movements without the ball going for cuts or coming off the screen for “catch and shoot”.


He can also put the ball on the flour to create his shoot mainly using his explosiveness to slash to basket or making left to right crossover or small step back move going for the pull-up jumper in which he still lacks balance and elevation. He also tends to shoot from quite a low point, especially in the catch and shoot situations where he barely leaves the ground. His shoot selection is still very problematic. First he lacks the desire to penetrate and he tends to shot the ball, sometimes not even from some play, but also just throwing ball from 10 meters.


In the movements without the ball he lacks a lot more desire, as sometimes he was just standing near the halfcourt line watching what his teammates are doing and not being a threat.  From time to time he also showed ability to find open teammates as a sign of a decent court vision. Tough for now he is very selfish, but it is not necessarily bad for that type of player.


When slashing, despite his athletic lay-ups might take your breath away, this is area where he needs to work a lot. First for start he needs to show more desire to use penetration in the game and secondly his fundamentals sometimes look quite questionable. He mostly just jumps over kids and tends to use small jump shoot lay up. It’s hard to believe he will be able use it when he meets seven-footers athletic big man. And when going for “school”  lay-up it seems he doesn’t stretch his arm enough and doesn’t protect his body well. In breakaways…he is so fast and furious!


On defense his body language at times signaled he really doesn’t care for defense, often just walking back on defense and just watching what happens. But in some moments he showed his full potential in that area when he decided to be more aggressive. Also he reads opponent’s plays very poor. He does get a ton of steals, but he also gambles to much.


However biggest question mark’s comes about his level of attitude, especially his behavior to some of his teammates and sometimes refs yelling at them after numerous mistakes. This might be a sings of that early success got in his mind, but on bright side he is rumored to be excellent worker. Anyway there is potential danger that he might not full fill his great upside.


Also I wouldn’t blame it all on him. First it’s not easy for kid in such emotional age to stay on the ground after receiving so much hype and being dominate as much as he is against rest of his age group players. And second, I take this comment on me, it looks his coach also plays big role in that. For sure at such age it’s good to show a lot support to players, but it’s never good when coach yell on the rest of the team and on the other side main star always gets supported no matter what he does.


Especially in one situation when Mario throw a bad pass to his teammate who wasn’t able to catch the ball (90% percent of not caught balls are on passer, not catcher) and his coach as well as the star player yelled at kid that I really felt sorry for. It was a very bad example of how things shouldn’t work in basketball team.


Mario Hezonja – overall impression: Mario is spectacular talent with spectacular future if he works hard on his game and sets his mind right. There are just not much players in Europe who throw windmill dunks and we are talking about 16 year old kid. Time is definitely on his side.


Marko Milekic 6’5’’ SF/PF – Marko was the best asset to Hezonja in Zagreb CO championship run. He might not be a star material, but has good body and decent abilities to make something in his carer. Mostly it will depend on how much he will be able to transform his game on the wing positions.





Dorian Jelenek 6’6’’ SF – the best player on the overall most talented team in tournament. Dorian showed decent athletic abilities, good body to go along with his good shooting and and skills to score under the basket. Good sense for rebounding and good defense.


On the down side he didn’t showed much ability to create his own shot from the perimeter, but he left impression there is lot room to improve in that area.


Leon Tomic about 6’4’’-6’5’’ SG/SF/PG – Leo is ‘96. born kid with probably biggest upside besides phenomenon Mario Hezonja who attended Trnsko last month. Leo has interesting physical tools for such a kid. Fast, athletic, long armed kid who was for sure best defender on the tournament and the only one who looked decent while guarding Hezonja 1-on-1.


On offense he has to yet profile his position, he will most likely finish as swingman at SG/SF. Even his shooting technique is the work in the process and his body is still developing.


He showed big potential in slashing area even as he struggled to finish as his body is immature in comparison to older players. And his fluid and explosive cross-over which he finished with the step back shoot over one player indicates there is a dynamite player hiding in him.


He was also the kid from which Hezonja stole the ball during the last possession that could turn the game result on Cedevita side – that showed that he is not afraid of challenge taking the most important ball of his young career and going on head-to-head with the star player despite being one year younger than the rest of his teammates.


Matej Jurcevic about 6’9’’-6’10’’ C/PF – is typical skinny, soft and tall Euro kid. From time to time he showed good mobility and softness in his hands. Although he struggled for to finish and play his moves to end, there is a lot of room to improve, especially in the strength area. He also showed he can hit mid-range jumper with his feet set. His body looks like it still has a lot of development left.


Marko Dojkic 6’9’’ PF – Marko has good athletic abilities and the game up to 5 meters, but he is not jet polished. Lacks some of the speed and finesse, but definitely has room to improve.


Goran Njegovan 6’2’’-6’3’’ SG/PG – showed some basketball skills and creativity through out the  tournament along with take over mentality in the clutch moments. Lacks some bigger upside and athleticism.


Ivan Zebic around 6’1’’ PG/SG – is last but not the least kid from Cedevita. First, this is one tiny ‘96 born but brave kid who went on twice wider and mature players and scored over them. He showed creativity and shooting in limited minutes. If he once catches the others that he faced in his player development for sure he will surpass lot of them.





Bruno Zganec 6’5’’ PG – although he was overshadowed by his stronger twin brother through out his young carer he gave the impression that it might not take long when the roles change.


He is a kid with long athletic body, even tough bit slow footed with big wingspan. He has very good handle and good shoot, though a bit slow and unorthodox release.


What sets him apart is that he might bloom latter is his natural feel for the game, creativity and great court vision. Some of his no look assists  were just for the finest basketball fans. There might be something special in that kid.


Defensively it’s hard to evaluate him as Feniks coach, his father Kreso Zganec, set zone defense all of the time, but he was the main factor in the zone deflecting and stealing a lot of passes as central figure of the zone with his huge wingspan.


Karlo Zganec 6’6’’ PF – he is the kid who is near Hezonja domination at this stage, but in long term his upside is quite limited. Factor of being over mature and twice stronger then the rest of the kids.


But still besides that he also has great fundamentals and very good ball handling that tells we shouldn’t write off this kid to soon. If he will have same competitive drive as former NLB stars Marko Banic and Dejan Milojevic he might turn into that class.





Frano Beslic 6’5’’ SG/SF – 96′ born kid who is reasonably considered as one of most talented 96. born prospects in Croatia along with Cibona’s Marko Arapovic and Cedevita’s Leon Tomic. He has good physical tools, ability to create and shoot for his age.


He had quite disappointing tournament,  being very passive that you don’t want to see from such talent…or maybe he still doesn’t realize how good he is. He might be a bit affected by the fact he just came back from the injury.


Mislav Barac 6’1’’ PG – might not be big prospect, but showed some important things to become good player. He is brave kid who is not afraid to go to basket and finish over taller players.


He has that competitive drive to go along with good speed and ball handling. He is a bit to selfish for PG, lacks better vision and athleticism, but when you are competitive and brave you can overcome a lot of disadvantages.



Boris Bartolic is special correspondent. He is an author of the recently published 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship Preview for Croatian NT

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