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November, 2012, Page 55
Photo by Madison Kirkman
SUNS POINT GUARD
It’s a familiar Phoenix storyline: Young, foreign point guard struggles to forge identity on Suns bench, gets traded to Texas rival, blossoms into starting point guard then returns home to lead wayward, rebuilding club.
When the Suns traded Goran Dragic to Houston for Aaron Brooks in February of 2011, they expected Brooks to blossom under starter Steve Nash. Instead, it was Dragic who spread his wings with the Rockets. After re-signing the Slovenian this summer to a four-year, $30 million contract that could be worth more with annual All-Star bonuses, the lottery-languishing Suns hope Dragic can spark a revival similar to the one his predecessor and mentor, Steve Nash, did after returning from the Dallas Mavericks.
Dragic acknowledges their similar career arcs but is equally leery of comparisons. He won’t have a wingman of Amare Stoudemire’s stature. He won’t have veterans accustomed to playoff success. To succeed, “the Dragon” will have to run his own pick-and-rolls.
Steve Nash was a valuable mentor to you early in your career. What was his greatest piece of advice?
That first year, I didn’t play for 20 or 30 games, and it was really tough for me. I was frustrated. I was thinking: “What am I doing here? I want to go back to Europe.” He just told me: “Kid, be patient, work hard. It’s a tough league. Maybe you’re going to get one or two opportunities, and when you do, you have to take advantage of them.”
Your first love as a kid was soccer. Why did you switch to basketball at age 11?
Another player’s cleats split open my leg, I broke my foot and my leg and my parents were really shocked. They said, “That’s it for soccer. Better to choose another sport.”
Do you have any memories of the Ten-Day War with the Yugoslav People’s Army for Slovenian independence in 1991?
When I was very young and the sirens went off, my mom would pick me [up] and we went to the bomb shelter. When you’re a kid, you’re really scared because you don’t understand what’s happening. You’re in some basement and it’s dark and everyone is scared. You don’t feel safe. That’s a horrible feeling for a kid.
How did ethnic differences impact your life as Yugoslavia broke apart?
My father is Serbian and my mother is Slovenian. So when I was growing up there were a lot of differences, especially in religion. The war was going on in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, so you had to watch who you were hanging out with. Not everyone was friendly. Some families didn’t want their kids to hang out with me.
NBA games weren’t exactly televised in prime time in Slovenia. How did you keep up?
My mom was very angry because I was waking up at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. just to watch NBA games. At some point, she took the TV out of my room just to try to get me to sleep because I was doing my sleeping in classes in school. Still, I would sneak and watch Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan. I was dreaming some day that I was going to be in this league.
You had a better free-agent offer from Charlotte and offers from Toronto and Houston. Why return to Phoenix?
I spent two-and-a-half amazing years of my basketball career here when we went to the Western Conference finals. Coming back to Phoenix was like coming home.
Have you thought about the parallels between your career and Nash’s?
It’s a pretty amazing story. But I’m not Steve. I’m Goran Dragic. I’m a different player and I can’t play like Steve. Nobody can. Personally, I just want to be me, play my style of game. Hopefully, that is enough.
Dive into this
bonus video package
of our photo shoot with Phoenix Suns playmaker Goran Dragic.
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