Bojan Subotic, Crvena Zvezda Telekom

Jan 11, 2013 by Igor Petrinovic, Print
Bojan Subotic, Crvena Zvezda Telekom
Bojan Subotic - Crvena ZvezdaCrvena Zvezda Telekom has stormed back onto the Eurocup scene after a two-year absence and it is leaving its mark in the competition as, thus far, the highest-scoring team in the Eurocup. Equally dangerous from the perimeter as well as from the paint, with firepower both in the backcourt and the frontcourt, Belgrade’s red-and-white squad has offense no opponent has yet found the way to stop. An important part of that equation is a superbly versatile power forward Bojan Subotic. Just turned 22, this die-hard Crvena Zvezda faithful has been an important part of team’s early success and run of six victories in the first seven games of the season, with the lone loss coming when club had already locked up first place in its regular season group. The club now sets sights on the Last 16, hoping to reach the Eurocup quarterfinals and go well beyond. While relying on players with great experience to carry the load, Zvezda also needs its youngsters to step up. Subotic, in particular, is one of them.

A rookie in Eurocup action, although some of his performances sure suggest differently, Subotic has already put his mark on Zvezda’s successful season. He starred with 24 points in the game in which Zvezda clinched first place in Group H, a 75-85 road win at Orleans Loiret Basket. The young power forward drove Orleans’s defense crazy out of the pick-and-roll and in the low post, but also shot 4 for 5 from behind the three-point arc. It was just the type of performance Subotic is capable of producing, which should not be much of a surprise considering he is a product of the FMP Zeleznik talent pool. On the outskirts of the Serbian capital, FMP Zeleznik has an unequalled reputation for talent development. Only in the past decade FMP produced former Turkish Airlines Euroleague MVP Milos Teodosic, former All-Euroleague forward Dusko Savanovic, 2009 Eurocup Rising Star Milan Macvan, Dejan Musli, Zoran Erceg, Aleksandar Rasic and Miroslav Raduljica – just to name a few – and now it continues to produce players through Crvena Zvezda as two clubs have developed a partnership that saved Zvezda’s existence. Subotic is one of the home-grown talents, who is used to winning from youth categories and trying to transcribe the success and those victories that Serbian basketball so often produces to the professional level.

Subotic grew up in a town of Tivat, on the Adriatic coast of Montenegro. His mother was a junior swimming champion, and relatives Mladjan and Nikola Janovic have hero status as famous Montenegrin waterpolo players. Despite that background, Bojan Subotic started with soccer. “I dominated in soccer, which is no wonder because I was so much taller and bigger than the other kids. I was pretty good at the right-back position, too”, Subotic laughed. However, his father and his older brother played basketball, so at the age of 10, Subotic opted for basketball. “Luckily, I did not find myself in soccer. I started following my brother to the basketball games. I liked it and started to get into it.”

His first coach, Predrag Radovic, helped his development quite a bit. In those early stages, coach gave Subotic his all-important discipline and work ethic, and as he continued to grow into his 2.03 meters and his love for waterpolo wilted, Subotic’s biggest dreams started to be tied to basketball. He passed a tryout with FMP at the age of 13 and joined the club, which was not a small matter. “I came to Belgrade by myself. I was still a child going to the eighth grade. I remember I cried a lot those first three months. I visited Belgrade just once before in my life, I had no idea how things function. But, people from the club helped me a lot, and FMP has an excellent system with young kids. I don’t know how I would have made it if not for that. But, I already knew then I wanted to be a basketball player.”

Bojan Subotic - Crvena ZvezdaSoon after, he was already called up to play for the national youth categories, and Subotic was first called to represent then Serbia and Montenegro at a big tournament shortly after his 15th birthday. Subotic immediately proved to be a big contributor, playing for the bronze-medal winning squad at the 2006 European Under-16 Championships, which took place in Spain. “I remember we had a long summer preparing for that tournament, and we came ready. Spain had Ricky Rubio, but we played a good tournament. However, we lost in the semifinals in a tight game against Russia. That was really tough to swallow.” Subotic’s true contributions during the Championships surpass his averages of 11.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in 22 minutes per game. After somewhat of quiet outing in the group stages, Subotic exploded in the medal rounds, including 19 points plus 11 rebounds in a quarterfinal win over France, and 20 points in 17 minutes of that semifinal loss against Russia. In the bronze medal game, he had a 12-point, 10-rebound performance against archrival Croatia. “I don’t know how I would explain I elevated my game in those important games, but I think it would have to do with game preparations, and something to do with character.”

It was clear, big things were ahead for Subotic, and more success soon came, this time on the club scene. Over the next two years in the Nike International Junior Tournament, FMP won three NIJT qualifying tournaments plus the 2008 title at the Final Four in Madrid. A loss in the 2007 title game proved to be the only defeat over two seasons for FMP and Subotic, who had several memorable games during the 2008 championship run. As captain of the team, Subotic scored a game-winning basket in L’Hospitalet tourney final and was named the final-game MVP after producing 37 points plus 12 rebounds in a 79-78 win over Barcelona. Later that year at the Final Four, he finished with an average of 18 points and 7.3 rebounds, including 21 points in the huge 80-70 finals victory in Madrid’s Palacio de Deportes against, again, Barcelona. All in all, Subotic led his club to 12 wins in as many games and he scored in double figures in all 12. “I remember those moments so clearly. That’s one of the greatest periods of my life. We were so happy when we won, we felt like we just made it in life. It confirmed that all our sacrifices had purpose”, Subotic said.

By then, Subotic already caught the eye of the basketball public and signed his first pro contract with FMP. However, the path to the red-and-white Crvena Zvezda jersey and the Eurocup scene was not immediate. He first played for FMP’s second team, in Serbia’s second division. “I actually liked playing for the second team, because I had minutes, I had freedom, and more importantly, I competed against older, very experienced players. You learn a lot playing against them.” The following two years he spent the first part of the season playing for Radnicki Basket, which became FMP’s second team, before he joined FMP for the final stages of the Serbian championships. In 2011, when FMP and Crvena Zvezda announced their collaboration, Subotic’s dream came true – he became a Crvena Zvezda player. Coming from a family of Zvezda fans, with only his grandfather liking archrival Paritzan, this was even a bigger thing for the rising star.

“Since I was a kid, I was a die-hard fan. I knew all the players, all the songs when I was 10 years old. I was so happy that things developed in such way I was suddenly Crvena Zvezda player. I almost fainted when I first put on the jersey.” But, even though Subotic managed to convert his grandfather to Zvezda, things were different from his days with FMP. A bigger stage, an army of fans, feeling both joy and pressure at the same time, it all made the change of clubs a huge deal. “From the get-go everything was different, starting with the enormous media interest, and more tension before games. But it all went away when the games started because that is what you worked for, that’s why you practiced so hard.”

Bojan Subotic - Crvena ZvezdaAs last season was a building process for the club to regain its glory, so it was a period of adjustment for Subotic. Now, in his second year with Crvena Zvezda, he already adjusted to all that playing for a bigger club and against the tougher competition brings. The game against Orleans is one proof, where he managed to utilize all his traits – versatility with the ball, and aggressiveness off the ball. When asked what he thinks of his game, Subotic said: “I am a combative player, a warrior. I play with all my heart, throughout my career I always gave all I had. 100%. I could never do things half way.”

What surely will help his career are his smarts, on- and off-court intelligence, which he often shows, even in pressure situations, just like he did in the dying seconds of an overtime thriller against Cajasol during the regular season. With Zvezda up by a basket near the end of the extra session, Subotic grabbed an offensive rebound and was sent to the foul line. “Cajasol’s John Holland approached me for a little trash talk, and told me: ‘You know, if you miss, we will win this game’. I politely replied: ‘Sorry, I don’t speak English’. You know the rest.” Subotic, who does speak English, kept his cool, sank both free throws and Zvezda went on to win.

Plays like that should help him reach his other unfulfilled dreams. One is playing for the senior national team after being a regular for years in the youth categories. The other is to become a Euroleague player. “Not for one season, but to play in the Euroleague every year.” Subotic knows the path Euroleague can lead through Eurocup, as well as the domestic competition, and Crvena zvezda is doing great on both fronts. That is especially true in the Eurocup where expectations are getting bigger with each game. “We entered this season with a lot of optimism. We put together a really good team, but we did start Eurocup with some fear knowing how tough the group we were drawn in was. But, as the games went by and we kept winning, we realized that it is all up to us. I really believe if continue playing like we are playing, as a team, we can beat every opponent in the competition.”

If that happens, one expects that it will not go without a contribution from Subotic, who waits for this coming summer to continue working on his game. And maybe to improve his game and bring it a little closer to a former Euroleague star with a similar warrior’s mentality, who he looks up to. “Luis Scola plays with such ease. I admired him when I watched him play growing up, and when I still watch him today. I don’t want to say he is my idol, we are not the same type of players, but I would definitely want to play with such ease. I have some way to go, though,” Subotic concluded.