One of the brightest up-and-coming 7DAYS EuroCup stars these days is versatile Cedevita Zagreb forward Marko Arapovic. A young man who turned 20 years of age earlier this summer has been playing among Europe's elite full-time for the past three seasons. Arapovic is in his second full campaign in the competition, and also has two full Turkish Airlines EuroLeague seasons and 33 games in that competition under his belt, too.
Arapovic might have become a regular on the top level at young age, but thanks to his father, former Euroleague champion center Franjo Arapovic, Marko has been around top European basketball competitions ever since he was born.
"We had a basket in our yard, so I was always playing it. I called my friends over, playing three-on-three, two-on-two. It was a lot of fun and it was something that's part of my life since I was a kid," Arapovic recalls. "After trying couple other sports, I just decided, 'Dad, take me to the basketball practice today.' I always knew basketball is a part of me. That it's in me. I liked it, and I just wanted to start playing it for real."
Having attended his father's games since he was a little kid, almost naturally basketball was something Marko always wanted and was bound to do. Marko's father played as a pro for almost 20 years, and was one of the memorable big men in the proud basketball nation of Croatia. Legendary for his on-floor charisma, emotion and connection with the fans, Franjo was a two-time Euroleague champion and a two-time Olympic silver medalist during the mid-1980s and early 1990s.
The elder Arapovic won Euroleague titles with Cibona Zagreb in 1985 and 1986, and a pair of Olympic silver medals with Yugoslavia in 1988 and with Croatia in 1992. He also has World Championship and Eurobasket bronzes in his medal collection, and among the double-digit domestic trophies he won playing for clubs across the continent, Franjo Arapovic also helped Zalgiris Kaunas win the Saporta Kup in 1998.
Such an impressive trophy case and the hard work his father put in to accomplish all those achievements present an everyday inspiration for Marko, as he tries to become a better player himself.
"I heard the stories what he went through, how practices were like back then. It was a bit harder than now. He was practicing in ways that we can't even imagine right now, because today we have all the [necessary] conditions, and they had none," Marko said. "Today, we have everything we need to become successful. And it's only on us to keep working hard, keep grinding."
As one of the most promising young players of his generation, Marko made his EuroCup debut back in 2012, when he was just 16 years old. As he was growing up, then started his pro career, the roles in the family got reversed. Now it is Marko playing and his father Franjo carefully watching, and ready to give a timely advice.
"He never pushes his opinions on me," Marko says of their relationship. "The best advice he always gives me is to stay calm and stay focused. When my head is in the game, he knows that I'm going to do everything right. Because I really seek to do the details right, because I think basketball is a sport of details. When I do something really wrong and he sees it, he's just trying to correct me. But he's never going to come first and say do this, do that. Because that's not him. He is trying to make me my own person."
While becoming his own person, and molding his game, Marko has started to build a collection of his own trophies at an early age. So far, he has one Adriatic League title with Cibona Zagreb, the club where both Marko and Franjo grew up as players, and also three Croatian League and Croatian Cup titles.
Marko also has a gold medal from the U16 European Championships in 2011, silver from the U18 European Championships in 2013, bronze from 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship, and another silver medal from the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championships, where he was also voted to the all-tournament team. This past summer, Marko was also a member of the Croatian national team at the Olympics Games in Rio, where Croatia reached the quarterfinals.
With such promising start of his pro career, and the fantastic career he had in juniors, one can't help but guess if Marko can win even more than what his father did.
"It's funny because my father is always saying that I am going to become a better player than him, but I'm never going to win so many medals as he did. But I see that as a challenge, and that's something I want to prove him wrong," Marko explains.
"He won all of those medals, and I would just like to feel how it is like to achieve all those things he did. Because when he talks about it, you can feel how special it was. That is was something different."