Most basketball fans in Spain and the 7DAYS EuroCup have already noticed that Dejan Todorovic of RETAbet Bilbao Basket is a terrific dunker. But apart from all his outstanding slams, Todorovic is a hard-working guy with a great story behind him. Now 22, Todorovic had no basketball background while growing up in the small Bosnian town of Mrkonjic Grad, with18,000 inhabitants. As such, Todorovic had to move to improve, first going a basketball academy in Novi Sad, Serbia at age 15 and two years later joining Unicaja Malaga's youth teams. He has played in Spain ever since, first with Unicaja's farm team – with brief appearances with its first team – and then with Bilbao, where he is in his third season. Todorovic is averaging 9 points and 3 rebounds per game so far this season and, of course, he has already detonated some of his famous slams. "I am a player who is known for bringing positive energy," Todorovic told Eurocupbasketball.com. "I try to give that energy to my teammates and our fans, and the best way to do it is with a big dunk. It is easier!"
Not a lot is known about Todorovic's basketball background. His hometown is not a famous basketball spot and his family was not into the sport. "I started to play basketball in my hometown, in Mrkonjic Grad, Bosnia, where I was born," he said. "Truth to be told, I am the first professional sportsman in my family. My father and my brother played a little bit of football and as a kid, age five or six, I started to play football. By the time I was nine or 10, I decided to start playing basketball due to my friends' advice. They were a little bit older than me, I always had older friends. I just started to play and liked it a lot, so I kept playing."
Once he developed into a promising player in his city, Todorovic decided to join a basketball school, Sport Key, run by the Lukovski family. Janko Lukovski was a super scorer who played for Rabotnicki for 15 years, but didn't get to play for the Yugoslavian national team due to the high competition at that spot, with Dragan Kicanovic and Mirza Delibasic as its main backcourt stars. His son Dragan played for Yugoslavia, helping it win a gold medal at the 1998 FIBA World Cup and a bronze one at EuroBasket 1999. Dragan Lukovski played three EuroLeague seasons with Pau-Orthez and reached the 2005 EuroCup Finals with Makedonikos. Todorovic remembers how he went from Sport Key to Unicaja. "I spent two years with them, and they have a great relationship with Bozidar Maljkovic," Todorovic said, referring to the four-time EuroLeague title-winner who also coached at Unicaja. "They told Boza to see me for a couple of days, which he did. He came to see me and he was the key for me to go to Malaga."
Once Maljkovic made the contact, Todorovic joined Unicaja's youth teams in 2011, playing there for the next three years along with Augusto Lima, Rafa Luz, Ognjen Kuzmic, Alex Abrines, Pepe Pozas and Alberto Diaz, among many others. After a year of adjustment, Todorovic went on to average 12.5 points in 31 Spanish third-division games for Unicaja's youth team. It was not easy for Todorovic but he was finally in the right track.
"My first two years in Malaga were very hard for me. Picture this: I was a 17-year-old kid who just got out of his country, far away from his parents, not knowing the language... it was tough for me," Todorovic admits. "In the end, I made the right move. They took good care of me and had good coaches in Unicaja's youth teams. I also practiced and played a bit with its first team, with good coaches like Jasmin Repesa and Joan Plaza. If you look back, everything went very well and I made the most of my time there. The only thing I regret is not having the chance to play in the first team, but I hope to have a long career and get another chance to play in the EuroLeague."
By the 2013-14 season, Todorovic did even better, becoming the second-best scorer in the Spanish second division (14.9 ppg.). Unicaja boss Joan Plaza gave him the opportunity to play in the EuroLeague, taking part in four games, enough for Todorovic to showcase his dunking skills. "I remember the dunk against Galatasaray, which was a very good one. I also played against Olympiacos and it was fun. It was a good experience," Todorovic said.
Widely regarded as one of the best dunkers of his generation,Todorovic sees it as a way to get everyone involved, from teammates to fans.
"Well, I am a player that is known for bringing positive energy," he says. "I try to give that energy to my teammates and our fans, and the best way to do it is with a big dunk, it is easier! I love dunking and have the athletic skills to do it. I love to dunk and give energy to my team, the kind of positive energy that makes you win games." Todorovic said.
His dunk against FC Barcelona Lassa last season is still remembered as one of the best in the Spanish League in the recent years.
Todorovic joined Bilbao in 2014 and is in his third season with the team. He arrived on loan to Bilbao for a couple of years and signed a three-year deal with the "Men in Black" last summer.
"I was sent on loan but Bilbao was a good choice. I loved it here and felt very comfortable with its players and coaches," Todorovic said. "The following summer, I was without a team for a long time. I didn't know what to do and got back to Bilbao really late. They had put together their roster and signed me as their 10th player. In the end, I had a good time and played well. The key to coming back last summer were Axel Hervelle, Axel Mumbru and Raul Lopez, who said some good words about me to our new coach, Carles Duran. Coach and I spoke, and he told me the project they had this season. I liked it a lot and decided to come back to Bilbao, signing a three-year deal. I am very happy so far; things are going well for me!"
Todorovic averaged 3.4 points in 14 EuroCup games last season but is doing much better so far, showing his development as a player. He had 12 points against ALBA Berlin, including an outstanding, one-handed alley-oop slam selected the EuroCup play of the week. He also had 6 points in 14 minutes in his team's home win against Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius. Of course, having club legend and world champion Alex Mumbru by his side, teaching him all the secrets to become a good small forward, is very appreciated.
"Alex helps me a lot, really, but not only him, also Axel (Hervelle), Carles (Duran), his assistant Carlos (Frade) and everyone else," he said. "I am very happy here and have to be very patient. Everything will fall into place soon and people will notice how I am improving as player."
The EuroCup is a perfect competition to for Todorovic to see playing time and to face some of the best teams in Europe.
"The EuroCup has a very good playing level, with a lot of very experienced teams that play very physical. Having teams from different leagues, you can tell playing styles are very different sometimes. You get to know different basketball brands and learn a lot," Todorovic said. "It is a nice competition and we can reach very far. We have a good team this season - we lost against ALBA Berlin but I believe we will qualify to the Top 16 and have a great EuroCup season."