As Union Olimpija Ljubljana looks to the future, the Slovenian powerhouse may have found a man in the middle to build around. Center Nikola Jankovic is among the team leaders in most statistical categories and at age 22, he is only getting better. Jankovic has already enjoyed significant roles on teams he played for in each of his four previous professional seasons and through hard work has become a true force in the paint.
Jankovic has always had the strength and fundamentals needed to excel in the post. He finishes around the rim with high accuracy, which is also a product of his instincts, confidence and a fact that he has already logged in a lot of minutes on the floor in his young career. In this early part of this season, Jankovic has emerged as one of the leaders for Olimpija. He is one of only two players to have started each of Olimpija’s four games, and ranks as team’s second-best scorer with 10.8 points per game and is tied for the most rebounds with 6.5 boards per night. Jankovic has made 63% of his shots, which ranks in the upper echelon of EuroCup players, as are his 2.3 offensive boards per night.
All signs are that Jankovic is happy with his progress this season, too. In a recent interview, he said: “My Impressions in Ljubljana are positive. I fit in great and it means a lot I am playing in the EuroCup.”
Jankovic has long been devoted to basketball. So much so, that as an 18-year old promoted basketball in his small hometown of Vranje in the southernmost part of Serbia, paying visits to the practices of local kids, talking to them, taking photos, sharing knowledge. He left his hometown early to join the famous FMP Zeleznik talent pool, and looked to be one of the best centers in his age category. Just days before turning 16 years in February 2010, Jankovic already made his debut and contributed for U18 FMP Zeleznik in the ANGT Qualifying Tournament - Belgrade, and three months later scored in double-digits in each game at the ANGT Finals, including the title game loss to tournament host U18 INSEP Paris.
He had similar success with Crvena Zvezda Belgrade’s juniors in the seasons that followed, and he kept proving his talents year after year playing for Serbian national team youth categories to become one of the most promising young big men in Europe.
Three times in four years Jankovic was chosen to the All-Tournament teams at major tournament while playing for Serbia’s youth categories. He led the teams to silver medals at the U18 European Championships in 2011 and at the U19 World Championships in 2013. His collection of medals does not end there as Jankovic also has bronze medals from the U18 European Championships in 2012 and the U20 European Championships in 2014, where he posted 15.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
Despite all that success and media attention in the basketball-crazy country, Jankovic left FMP and Zvezda. He chose a different path than most of his young countryman, who naturally opt to develop their skills in their native land and wait to get a chance with local powerhouses Crvena Zvezda and its archrival Partizan Belgrade. Jankovic signed his first professional contract with Spirou Charleroi in Belgium.
Jankovic has always been aware that talent is just a small part of the equation in becoming a successful basketball player. “The formula of every success is hidden in hard work and patience. In making thousands of baskets every day, and hours on the basketball court in the gym, outside in the park or in front of your house, does not matter. Work, work and only work is what is important.”
After having success at the junior levels, his hard work soon enough started paying off playing against the big boys, too. With Charleroi, Jankovic made his EuroCup debut in his very first pro season as an 18-year old, but a season later moved to a fellow Belgian team Verviers-Pepinster to get even more opportunities and minutes. Still a teenager, he quickly became a starter and went on to average 11.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in his first year with the team. A year later, he posted 16.1 points on 62.2% two-point shooting and collected 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per night.
That led him to a decision to return home after three years in Belgium. Jankovic joined Mega Leks Belgrade last season, which allowed him to play in Serbia for the first time as a professional. Moreover, he helped the club to a historic success. Mega first lifted the Serbian Cup trophy and then, with Jankovic posting 9.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals, reached the Adriatic League playoff finals.
After proving himself year after year, Jankovic decided to take the next step and get to the big stage, thus joining Olimpija to get a chance to introduce himself and test his talents in the EuroCup. Only a few games were enough for Jankovic to erase any doubts – if there were any in the first place – that this is where he belongs, and that he is here to stay.