Editor’s note: Brett Stover sent us this nice prep piece on the friendly game today between Slovenia and Croatia
Luka Doncic makes his long-awaited return to international play this afternoon as the Slovenian men’s national team takes on Croatia in the team’s final tuneup before the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Lithuania later this month.
Today’s game is the second of two friendlies between the two teams, with Slovenia winning the first matchup 94-80 on Wednesday in Rijeka, Croatia, as Doncic looked on from the sideline after joining the team earlier this week. Croatia will likely look to step up their game as they travel to Ljubljana, Slovenia, as they’re also preparing to host their own OQT.
Doncic last played internationally in 2017, helping his country to its first and only Eurobasket championship. Playing alongside tournament MVP Goran Dragic, 18-year-old Doncic averaged 14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists. In the quarterfinal, he put up 27 points and 9 rebounds against Latvia and now-teammate Kristaps Porzingis. Since then, Doncic has focused exclusively on playing for the Mavericks.
The team’s 2017 star, Dragic, has since retired from international basketball. In an interview earlier this week, the now-22-year-old Doncic acknowledged that he will need to step up on and off the court in the Miami Heat point guard’s absence.
“Things have changed mainly because there is no Goran,” Doncic said. “I have to work on that. To be an even better leader.”
Slovenia sits at 16th in the latest FIBA rankings, with Croatia right ahead of them at 14th. However, those rankings obviously do not account for the arrival of one of the NBA’s elite players joining the team.
Slovenia will be at full strength in today’s game, including the debut of former Virginia center Mike Tobey.
The 7-foot big man, who plays with Slovenian guard Klemen Prepelic at Valencia Basket in Liga ACB, received a Slovenian passport earlier this week and will compete with the team in the OQT. Tobey played two games for the Charlotte Hornets in 2016-2017 after going undrafted. This year, Tobey averaged 9.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in under 19 minutes per game of action in Liga ACB, although he did shoot above 40% from three.
For the opposition, Croatia will be without Bojan Bogdanovic, Ivica Zubac and Dario Saric as their teams are still competing in the NBA playoffs. The most familiar face that will likely suit up for Croatia in today’s game is former fifth overall pick Mario Hezonja, who played for Orlando, New York and Portland before signing with Panathinaikos in Greece earlier this year.
For Croatia, other notable names include former Cavalier Ante Zizic, former Sun Dragan Bender and current Spurs forward Luka Samanic. Goran Dragic’s younger brother Zoran, who previously played in Phoenix and Miami, will suit up for Slovenia.
How to watch
For fans who want to watch Luka’s Slovenian homecoming, the game will be broadcast in English on For The Fans. The company, also known as Next Level Sports, broadcasts games from Liga ACB, the NBA G League, the Ivy League and Big Sky conferences in addition to dozens of other leagues and other sports. The network’s COO, Rob Wallace, said that FTF’s mission is to “deliver competitive, sometimes alternative, free sports content to the masses.”
“Live sports in the middle of a workday on a summer Friday,” Wallace said. “On the march towards the Olympic Games, who wouldn’t want to take a break from their hectic schedule to watch that drama unfold?”
FTF announced the broadcast yesterday on Twitter. Wallace said that the network’s “planning team, based on its history with the distributors, was able to put this together over the last few days.”
The best part? You can watch for free online on the Roku Channel, along with other options.
Time: 1:00 p.m. CT
Online: For The Fans (Roku Channel 228)
Television: Next Level Sports (DIRECTV – 623, Mediacom – 679, Full List)