Nikola Ivanovic, KK Buducnost Voli

Mar 26, 2012 by Milivoje Kovacevic, Podgorica Print
Nikola Ivanovic, KK Buducnost Voli
Nikola Ivanovic - Buducnost Voli (photo: Adriatica Basket)The most accomplished 18-year-old in the game of basketball today could well be Montenegrin young gun Nikola Ivanovic. The KK Buducnost Voli sixth man only reached the age of voting last month and shortly after the Montenegrin champs awarded him two special presents. First Buducnost punched its ticket to the Eurocup Quarterfinals and then to the Adriatic League final four. And now the club has set its sights on the Eurocup Finals. Of course these results could not have been achieved with the steady production from the point guard, who has solidified his status as one of the sport’s rising stars.

Naturally it would have been difficult to predict what Ivanovic’s impact might have been as a rookie playing at a high level of European basketball. But he never showed fear, earned his minutes from Coach Dejan Radonjic and has become an impact player. Ivanovic showed flashes of brilliance in the preseason and then produced 14 points in as many minutes off the bench in the team’s Turkish Airlines Euroleague Qualifying Rounds loss to Lietuvos Rytas back in September. And his Eurocup season started with a bang as Ivanovic dished out 7 assists in just 15 minutes in his Eurocup debut – a 75-50 dismantling of PGE Turow.

More recently, Ivanovic has produced at an even higher level. His stats across the board increased from the Eurocup Regular Season to the Last 16 and he played a major role in Buducnost’s biggest win of the stage with 16 points and 5 assists in an 83-73 victory over Banvit BK. His Last 16 averages were an impressive 10.5 points, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals in just 21 minutes per game. In Game 1 of the Eurocup Quarterfinals, Ivanovic again played a significant role off the bench with 9 points in 18 minutes. He scored 6 of those points in the fourth quarter – including the go-ahead triple during a 13-0 run – as Buducnost rallied from 10 down for a historic win over Valencia basket. Ivanovic has also increased his production in the Adriatic League, where he had his best game to date last month in a victory over Turkish Airlines Euroleague participant KK Zagreb with 23 points and 3 steals.

“Lately I have been in good shape,” Ivanovic told of his recent play. “The start of the season was not easy for me. But with a lot of effort and hard work I corrected a lot of things that were not good. Coach Radonjic and Jermaine Anderson have helped me a lot. I think I played the games against KK Zagreb in the Adriatic League and against Banvit in the Eurocup on a high level. I was delighted because I was at my best in the most crucial games. Now we are in the Eurocup Quarterfinals and the Adriatic League final four and that is amazing success for this team.”

The fact that Buducnost’s experienced players have shown faith in him in difficult situations has only further boosted Ivanovic’s great confidence. “I am very happy about that. I enjoy contributing when the game has to be decided and it’s not a problem for me to take responsibility. If I have the open shot, I will always take it. And if I have a good option to penetrate, I will use it and drive for a layup over taller players. But the most important thing is the team result and I do my best for that.”

Buducnost Voli’s most efficient lineup may be with Anderson at point guard and Ivanovic at shooting guard. “Maybe the key to Buducnost Voli’s success this season is playing with Anderson as playmaker and me as shooting guard. Sometimes it helps to change positions. I am happy either way, but I feel that point guard is my natural position,” Ivanovic confessed. “For the time being it is good. I do my best and I want to improve the level of my game at every practice and in every game.”

Ivanovic first caught the eye of the basketball public at the 2010 European Under-16 Championships in Bar, Montenegro. Ivanovic was voted to the all-tournament team after posting averages of 16 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and a tournament-best 3.1 steals per game. The following season Ivanovic played for local club KK Mornar Bar, where his talent continued to shine through. NCAA champion University of Connecticut contacted Ivanovic about a scholarship, but he preferred the offer from Montenegrin powerhouse Buducnost.

Nikola Ivanovic - Buducnost Voli (photo: Adriatic Basket)Last summer, his name was on the list for the Montenegrin national team at three levels: the senior “A” team, Under 20 and U-18! Even though he was almost three years younger than the competition, Ivanovic started for the U-20 side at the European Championships in Bilbao, Spain, and finished with 9.4 points and 2 assists per game. When that tournament ended, Ivanovic headed straight to Wroclaw, Poland, for the U-18 championships. He missed the first two games, but over the next five he led Montenegro with 16.8 points and 4 assists per game.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect an invitation for the ‘A’ team. Just the fact that my name was on the extended list for the EuroBasket in Lithuania made me very proud,” Ivanovic said. “My generation played in the Under-18 championships, but first I practiced with the Under-20 team and then played in the Division A Championships in Spain and came back with seventh place. We could have done even better! Immediately after that, I continued on to play the decisive games with the Under-18 team in the Division B championships in Poland. Unfortunately, for the fourth time in row, we failed to reach the final game and a spot in Division A.”

Ivanovic’s first sport as a child was karate. He didn’t try basketball until he was 8 years old, but soon the game captured his heart. After less than a year, Ivanovic gave up karate for basketball. He trained at the KK Joker basketball school under former Buducnost, Partizan and Olimpia center Jadran Vujacic. From the same talent pool would entere future Real Madrid sensation and Euroleague Rising Star Award winner Nikola Mirotic, Joventut Badalona forward Marko Todorovic and CAI Zaragoza guard Nikola Rakocevic. But unlike his brethren, Ivanovic decided to prove himself at home before seeking out a career abroad.

“I am taking things step by step. There are at least a couple of years of hard work in front of me. I have to improve a lot in my conditioning and to build my self-confidence if I want to leave KK Buducnost Voli as a complete player,” Ivanovic said about his future. “Yes I dream about certain clubs, but I have to be firmly on the ground. Time is working for me.”

The many clubs that have interest in Ivanovic will have to be patient, however. Just after his 18th birthday in February, he signed his first professional contract with Buducnost – a four-year deal. But even that has not changed a thing about Ivanovic. He is still the first in the locker room before practice and the last to leave the court when it’s over. And that is just another sign of his determination to be one of the greats.