One of the most interesting young big men in Europe has made his Eurocup debut this season – and more than lived up to the expectations. CEZ Basketball Nymburk represents the seventh professional club for the 23-year old Rasid Mahalbasic and it is with the Czech champs that the big man has taken off. Mahalbasic is averaging 11.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 0.8 blocks in 12 Eurocup games – despite playing less than 24 minutes per night. A pillar for head coach Kestutis Kemzura, Mahalbasic is contributing at both ends of the floor and helped Nymburk survive the regular season by winning five of its last six games to advance to the Eurocup Last 32.
Born in Jesenice, Slovenia, Mahalbasic is of Bosniak origin. There are only around 25,000 Bosniaks in Slovenia, but four elite players – Mahalbasic, former Eurocup champion Hasan Rizvic and current Euroleague stars Emir Preldzic and Mirza Begic are also Slovenians of Bosnian origin. The Mahalbasic family moved to Austria in 2002 for the father's work. By 2003, Mahalbasic received an Austrian passport, which made him eligible for its national team. In less than a decade, Mahalbasic, now a promising 2.10-meter center, has become the biggest star in Austrian basketball.
His first team was Worthesee Piraten, with whom he made his Austrian League debut in the 2006-07 season. Before that, Mahalbasic shined at the 2006 Division B Under 16 European Championships, where he averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds in nine games. The following summer, Mahalbasic boosted his numbers to 18.6 points and 11 rebounds playing for the Austrian U-18 team at the 2007 Division B European championships. At every opportunity, Mahalbasic was showcasing his power, rebounding skills and tremendous upside. He played for Piraten until the end of the 2009-10 season, with a short stop in Sarajevo to join Bosna ASA BH Telecon and a tryout with Montepaschi Siena. In the summer of 2010, Mahalbasic signed a six-year deal with Turkish Airlines Euroleague powerhouse Fenerbahce Ulker.
Before that, Mahalbasic continued to dominate the youth levels; he was chosen as the 2010 U20 Division B European Championships MVP after averaging 16.9 points and 9.8 rebounds in that tournament. He made his senior national team debut, too, recording a double-double - 10 points and 11 rebounds – in a game against Iceland. The 2010-11 season brought him a lot of changes, as Mahalbasic started it with Fenerbahce but also played for Tofas Bursa before joining KK Split for a few months. Mahalbasic confirmed his potential with the Austrian national team, where he averaged 15.8 points on 72.5% two-point shooting and 11.8 rebounds in six EuroBasket 2011 Division B games. Mahalbasic showed a nice combination of size and physical skills, an improved set of post moves – with many fakes – to look for the best position available.
Mahalbasic returned to Fenerbahce for the start of the 2011-12 season, but didn't see playing time and soon reached an agreement to part ways with the Turkish powerhouse. He joined Zlatorog Lasko in Slovenia, but just when his career seemed to be going downhill, Mahalbasic made the most of a great opportunity by signing for Polish side Asseco Prokom Gdynia. Big man Julian Khazzouh left Prokom after one Euroleague game, giving Mahalbasic the chance to see extended playing time against some of the best teams in Europe; his chance to prove that all he had done at the youth levels and Division B tournaments had paid off. Slowly but steadily, Mahalbasic earned his teammates' trust and started to feel more comfortable. He averaged 9.1 points and 6.8 rebounds in 10 games, but boosted his numbers to 12.2 points and 9.4 rebounds in his final five games. He posted two double-doubles late in the regular season – 12 points and 10 rebounds against Alba Berlin, 18 points and 16 rebounds against Montepaschi in Siena, helping Prokom to a prestigious 88-95 road win. He ranked fifth in rebounding for the 2012-13 Euroleague regular season.
Mahalbasic returned to the Austrian national team as a superstar and its main reference in the paint. He was stronger and more confident than ever after a good performance in both the Euroleague and the Polish League. He showed his credentials in the EuroBasket 2013 Qualifying Rounds, averaging 16.8 points in eight games and helping Austria to third place, right behind Croatia and Ukraine, but not high enough to take his team to the final round. Nymburk did not hesitate that summer and inked Mahalbasic to a two-year deal. Legendary center and former Euroleague and NCAA winner Jiri Zidek, who works for Nymburk as a consultant, knows Mahalbasic well.
"He feels very comfortable with his back to the basket, a playing style that is almost a disappearing act in itself. Even though he is not the most athletic player, he can use his body really well, has solid footwork and superb balance. The most important aspect I see in Raso is that he is not afraid of anybody; he has great self-confidence, which is really important for a big man," Zidek told Eurocupbasketball.com. "I expect him to improve a lot in the upcoming seasons when he gets more experience. This should be seen the most in his ability to quickly read double-team situations, which he should face more and more often if he continues developing."
Even though Mahalbasic mostly plays around the basket, he has an effective jump shot that can be extended to the three-point line. His court vision is good for a man his size, but with experienced veterans Rado Rancik and Petr Benda in the team, Mahalbasic is set to see most of his minutes at the '5' position. Despite not being a very athletic player, Mahalbasic makes up for that with great willingness to power the boards and a wide set of post skills. Mahalbasic has been consistent until now and had brilliant moments - 25 points against Cibona Zagreb, 21 and 9 rebounds in a big win against FoxTown Cantu, 16 points and 9 boards against Maccabi Haifa in Nymburk's Top 16 opener.
Nymburk has never gone past the Eurocup quarterfinals and hopes to do so this season. Its chances depend a lot on Mahalbasic, who is delivering now, a few years before entering the prime of his career. We can expect a bright, interesting future for him.