Though he just recently made his first steps on the basketball court, after bein introduced to the sport only because of his father's height, Jusuf Nurkic of Cedevita Zagreb is already making a name for himself across the continent. Putting up consistent numbers as though he were a true veteran, and not just a second-year professional, the young center is playing a major role in Cedevita's success this season. Despite playing a modest 16 minutes per game in Cedevita head coach Jasmin Repesa's frontcourt rotation, Nurkic has truly made the most of his playing time at both ends of the floor. Coming off the bench, he is averaging 8.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. Most of all, he helped carry Cedevita through the regular season to the Eurocup Last 32.
After previously flying somewhat under the radar, this season Nurkic has become one of the youngsters to watch in the Eurocup. Whether with athletic monster dunks, his soft touch from close range, or an occasional downtown bomb, the 19-year old with a 2.12 meter and 125 kilogram body frame is proving himself to be one of the brightest talents in the competition and beyond.
Nurkic only started playing basketball five years ago, but has had a start to his career that most players can only dream about. His first minutes at the senior level came in the jersey of his native Bosnia and Herzegovina national team in September of 2012, and at the club level in nothin less than a Turkish Airlines Euroleague clash against EA7 Emporio Armani Milan last season. In little more than a year since those two significant days in Nurkic's career, he has developed into a legitimate paint presence, with time only working in his favor.
Despite growing up nearby Tuzla, the Bosnian city that is home to KK Sloboda, where former and current Euroleague stars like Damir Mulaomerovic, Damir Mrsic, Mirza Teletovic and Mirza Begic grew up, Nurkic did not pick up basketball until the age of 14. He only started practicing basketball once he was noticed for the height of – his father. Nurkic got introduced to basketball fundamentals and soon moved to Zlatorog Lasko of Slovenia. There he played at the junior level. The basketball world took notice when he was briefly loaned to Union Olimpija Ljubljana to play for their junior team at the NIJT Belgrade tournament in February of 2012. Olimpija finished in seventh place, but Nurkic averaged 18.8 points and 11 rebounds in five games.
A few days later, he announced leaving Zlatorog, where he never got the chance to play at the senior level, in the Adriatic League or the Slovenian League. He transferred to Cedevita in the spring of 2012, but was not allowed to join the team until Cedevita and Zlatorog solved their transfer dispute.
Nurkic spent that summer with the Bosnia and Herzegovina teams. He first carried its U18 squad to the European Championships Division B title, and promotion to Division A, while being voted as the tournament MVP for his averages of 19.4 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. After dominating at the junior level, he was given a chance to play for the senior team in the EuroBasket Qualifying Rounds. Nurkic made his debut in a win over the Netherlands with 4 points and 5 rebounds, and also played against Georgia and Romania.
After his national team duties, the big man re-joined practices with Cedevita, but the club season had already started when, finally, he signed with the team. Nurkic still made it into then-head coach Bozidar Maljkovic's rotation, however, and started using opportunities in brief appearances on the floor. In his Euroleague debut against EA7 Milan in regular season Round 2, the teenager scored his first 2 field goal attempts. The week after, Nurkic hit his first three-pointer, and before the end of the regular season he had recorded his first 2 blocks, stopping the shots of none other than Vassilis Spanoulis and Pero Antic of Olympiacos Piraeus.
He played a total of 22 minutes in six Euroleague games, but with little room on the roster, in January of last year Nurkic was loaned to KK Zadar, which he later helped to reach the Croatian League playoffs final, averaging 8.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in 15 minutes per night. His performances led him to be among candidates for Bosnia and Herzegovina's EuroBasket squad this past summer, but an injury prevented Nurkic from joining the national team training camp.
Returning to Cedevita, Nurkic had an up-and-down start to the 2013-14 campaign, but hard work throughout his short career has started paying off. Nurkic picked up his game midway through the regular season, and played well when it counted the most. His big game came in a must-win showdown against Elan Chalon, posting 11 points and 6 rebounds during 16 minutes in Round 10 victory that put Cedevita into the next stage. Nurkic, then, started the Last 32 with 14 points, 3 blocks, 2 assist and 2 rebounds performance at CAI Zaragoza where depleted Cedevita picked up a crucial road win.
As Cedevita is looking for a long stay in the competition, keeping those ambitions alive will depend in big part on Nurkic. With only the sky being the limit for the young man, the future looks very bright for both Nurkic and Cedevita Zagreb.