It is no secret that it has been a tough and injury-plagued season for Montenegrin champion Buducnost VOLI Podgorica. Despite the club not having the 7DAYS EuroCup campaign they had hoped for before this season begun, Buducnost may have won something else. Talented rookie shooting guard Peter Popovic has had the opportunity to flash the talent and potential that make this 20-year old one of the most promising players on the continent. And perhaps in the seasons to come the seeds sowed this season will bear sweet fruits.
Buducnost, a two-time EuroCup quarterfinalist, entered the season as a candidate for another long run in the competition, but has not managed to win any of the first six games of the regular season, and was eliminated early from Top 16 contention. However, this club, which has played 11 EuroCup seasons, including nine of the last ten, is known for finding quick ways to bounce back. One of the reasons for that is the pool of homegrown, or young local players, which Buducnost has been developing for many years. One of such players is Petar Popovic, who joined the team this past summer.
On a team that features several seasoned veterans with a number of Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and EuroCup seasons behind them, Popovic has managed to jump ahead of a number of them. He has already earned three starts, spent the sixth-most minutes (19:14 per game) on the floor, scored the sixth-most points (6.2 ppg) and is second on the team in steals (1 spg.) this season. Popovic is one of four players born in 1996 that Buducnost has registered for the competition, and has the biggest role of them all, which he earned with his great attitude and willingness to improve every day. It also helps that he has already developed some mental toughness by spending time abroad, and despite being just 20 years old, he has been playing at a pro level for half a decade.
Popovic was only 15 when he made his debut for BC Lovcen Cetinje, the club where current Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade head coach Dejan Radonjic started his playing career in the early 1990s, and where current Valencia Basket star Bojan Dubljevic became a pro in 2009 - as a 15-year old as well. The difference is, however, that Popovic grew up with Lovcen. His first five games for his hometown club came in the 2011-12 season, and the following campaign his usage increased four times. While playing also for the junior team, he appeared in 20 games for the first team and averaged 4.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in helping Lovcen reach the Montenegrin playoffs. A season later, in 2013-14, being 17 years old did not prevent him from getting a bigger role, and Popovic shined by posting 9.3 points, 3 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.3 assists for a team that just missed the domestic playoffs.
That summer, he played for Montenegro’s Under-18 national team and starred at the continental championships as the second best scorer with 20.3 points, along with 4.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds. Soon enough, bigger teams came calling.
Popovic opted to sign a deal with Greek side Nea Kifisia before his 18th birthday, but as a young foreign player in the Greek League, he did not get as many chances as he hoped. Popovic played in just 11 games in the 2014-15 campaign, his first season abroad, and then appeared in 18 contests during 2015-16 Greek League, but his numbers, and most importantly his minutes, were not satisfying. Late last season, Popovic decided to return closer to home. He signed with Mega Leks Belgrade in Serbia last spring, hoping to finish of the season strong with more quality minutes in the Serbian League. And he did. Popovic posted 8.2 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.2 assists and his shooting from three-point range was at an impressive 48.4% accuracy. Popovic also made 90% of his free throws in helping Mega reach the Serbian League playoffs.
Things got even better for Popovic after the finish of the club season. He first joined Montenegro’s U20 national team and led the side in scoring with 13 points per game at the FIBA U20 European Championship to help his side earn promotion to Division A. It also got him selected to the All-Tournament team. Popovic’s performances did not go unnoticed and he was called upon to play for his country during the EuroBasket 2017 qualifiers a month later. The famed Bogdan Tanjevic, who is currently coaching the Montenegro national team, gave him a chance and Popovic was ready to grab it. Popovic scored 11 points in a win over Albania, but had his most significant role in a key road win in Georgia, where Popovic hit a pair of triples and scored 8 points. He finished the qualifiers with an average of 6 points on 40% three-point accuracy.
Even though these numbers have not translated in the EuroCup so far, he has been shining for Buducnost in the Adriatic League where he is currently posting 10.3 points on remarkable 57.1% three-point shooting. The last seven months have mostly been like a dream for a young player. Popovic’s performances this year launched an already promising player to a new level, proving why the perennial Montenegrin champion has a bright future, but also why Petar Popovic is considered one of the up-and-coming stars of European basketball.