Tadija Dragicevic, Red Star

Nov 26, 2007 by Aca Ostojic, Belgrade Print
Tadija Dragicevic, Red Star
Tadija Dragicevic - Red Star In Serbia, they say that whoever washes his hands in the Morava River shall become a great basketball shooter. Dragan Kicanovic, Zeljko Obradovic, Branko Jorovic and Uros Tripkovic heard that advice, and the miracle happened. All are from Cacak, a small Serbian town located on the banks of the Morava, and all became smooth shooters from long range, among the best European shooters of their generations. Tadija Dragicevic was born in Cacak, and he also heard the legend about the river. As a teenager, he went to Morava riverside, but not only to wash his hands. He must have jumped into the river, because at the tender age of 21, he has become a complete basketball player: shooter, rebounder and team leader. Dragicevic is one of the youngest Red Star captains ever, in a club more than 50 years old. This season, the 2.05-meter power forward has exploded both in ULEB Cup and Adriatic League play. Through the first three ULEB Cup games, Dragicevic is averaging 19 points and 4.3 rebounds, but his team contribution is harder to show in statistical data. "The key is that coach Stevan Karadzic gave me more minutes this season," Dragicevic says. "He believes in me and I have to make it hit home that he was right. I am satisfied, but the most important thing is that Red Star wins."

Dragicevic joined Red Star in 2002 as a member of Borac Cacak cadet team that was runner-up in Serbia that year.

"I did not skip any step in my career," Dragicevic said. "I owe nothing and I learned to believe in myself and in hard work. This is the reason my achievement is more sweet to me. Nobody gives you presents in your life. You have to struggle each day."

While on Red Star's junior team, Dragicevic joined the national teams of the same level. He played the 2004 European Junior Championship in Saragosa together with Uros Tripkovic, Nemanja Aleksandrov, Milenko Tepic and Dragan Labovic. The Turkish team led by Cenk Akyol and Kaya Peker was too strong and beat Serbia and Montenegro in the quarterfinals. Dragicevic was kind of a supporting act that time, but a year later he was among the main weapons on the under-20 national team at those European Championships in Russia. The team's coach was Stevan Karadzic, then an assistant in Red Star. Dragicevic shined alongside Tepic, Tripkovic and a new big man under the boards Nikola Pekovic. That team won the bronze medal behind Russia and Lithuania. The following summer, however, Dragicevic finally won a gold medal with the same under-20 team, at the 2006 European championships in Izmir, Turkey. This time, Serbia and Montenegro beat host Turkey 64-58 in the final. In a thrilling finish, Dragicevic and Tepic scored crucial points while Pekovic dominated under the basket. Dragicevic continued showing his basketball skills in 2006 at the Global Games in the United States, where he averaged 15.5 rebounds and 7.3 points playing. In the semifinal game against Lithuania, however, he was injured after having already scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

On the club level, Dragicevic had spent the 2005-06 season with in Mega Ishrana, in a minor Serbian league. He played there together with his twin brother Strahinja, who had started his own career in Red Star's archirival club, Partizan. In March of 2006, Red Star head coach Tadija Dragicevic - Red StarDragan Sakota called up Dragicevic for the final Adriatic League tournament in Sarajevo. That was the turning point for the young player. Last season, Dragicevic played 18 minutes per ULEB Cup game and started three of them, averaging 8.7 points and 3.6 rebounds, almost half of those on the offensive boards.

"Last year, we played with lot of ups and downs I really don't know why,” Dragicevic said. “At the end, we played in domestic playoff finals in a way that is far away from my real ambitions."

What is sure is that Dragicevic plans to reach those ambitions.

" I analyze my play after each game," he says. "There are so many things I have to repair, first of all my defensive play. I am working hard to minimize my mistakes and to prove myself in each game."

He used to like to play street ball, but Dragicevic doesn't play it anymore because he is wary of injuries. He shares an apartment with his twin brother and only occasionally goes clubbing.

"I don't have time for clubs and friends," he says. "We play a killer Tuesday-Saturday rhythm. Last season, Red Star was in the hardest ULEB Cup group and we reached the second phase, but we missed the quarterfinals. This season our group is moderate. Anyway there are some clubs with huge budgets, like Dynamo Moscow and Beghelli Bologna. We have already have proven that we are able to play with Euroleague teams and our goal in the ULEB Cup is to make one step forward compared to last season. Quaterfinals at least."

Dragicevic is not the project anymore. His performances this season provoked club management to extend his contract until 2010. He is the player Red Star is building the team around, the key player for next few seasons.

"It is a real big honor to be Red Star captain and I am proud that I was chosen," Dragicevic says. "My only wish is to leave my footprint on Red Star, a deep footprint. That is the reason Tadija Dragicevic - Red Starthat I signed the contract extension. Before I leave the club, I wish to hold the Serbian or Adriatic League championship trophy in my hands. If I manage to do that, I could leave with my heart full." Still, Dragicevic says he is not tempted to look too far into the future.

"My biggest wish is to play good in Red Star and to win a trophy," he says. "After that I don't care. It is normal for every man to have ambitions. I am no exception. My wish is to move to some good European team, but after succes with Red Star."

Red Star currently has a 2-1 record in Group F of the ULEB Cup regular season and holds a 9-2 mark in the Adriatic League. Dragicevic says he is satisfied with Red Star's performance so far.

"It is not a secret that we want to reach the Euroleague," he said. "We started the Adriatic League and the ULEB Cup in style, but this is the beginning of the season and there are a lot of hard games in front of us. The secret of our success is that we are hungry for the victories. We are able to play even better. All we need is time to show our talent."