No one should be surprised if Dino Radoncic's ears perk up whenever Sergio Rodriguez or Sergio Llull speak on the court for Real Madrid. After all, the 17-year-old young talent is getting a chance to play with his idols.
Radoncic showed the basketball world at the 2016 EUROLEAGUE BASKETBALL ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Finals why he is considered one of the top players in the 1999 generation. He averaged 22.3 points 5.3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1.3 steals for U18 Real Madrid, which came up short in its attempt to defend its ANGT title from last season.
"It's a really good competition and a good experience and I'm really happy to play here," Radoncic said in Berlin. "Last year I was a cadet and I was watching them win this. This year we played well. We won (the ANGT Qualifying Tournament) L'Hospitalet, but next year I'm sure we will be better."
After winning its first two games in Berlin, Madrid lost 79-69 to U18 Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade in its final Group B game - meaning it could not make its third straight appearance in the ANGT Championship Game.
"It was a tough loss because we entered to win and wanted to play in the final," Radoncic said. "We really gave everything we had. I'm really proud of the team and what we did. We fought to the finish."
Despite not reaching the championship game, Radoncic definitely added another highlight to his already impressive season. Due to some injuries at the start of the season, Madrid pro team coach Pablo Laso had included the young Radoncic in his squad. His first big moment came on October 8, 2015 when he played 5 minutes and grabbed 2 rebounds in the NBA Global Games Europe showdown between Real Madrid and the Boston Celtics.
"I was really excited to play against the Boston Celtics. And it was incredible entering for Andres Nocioni, who played in the NBA, and being with the team. Thanks to Pablo Laso for giving me the chance," said Radoncic.
The small forward made his Spanish League debut just 10 days later by playing 2 minutes on the road against Gipuzkoa. And then came Radoncic's Euroleague debut on October 22, when he scored his first point on a free throw while playing almost 3 minutes against Crvena Zvezda.
"It was a really big step and I'm happy I could do that," he said looking back to his Euroleague debut. "When I see those videos I nearly cry."
Radoncic valued the experiences even more because he was able to play alongside two of his idols: Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull.
"It's because of the way they were with me in the first team, letting me learn from them. I stay in contact with them," said Radoncic.
"I have looked up to Sergio Rodriguez since I was eight years old. I saw him with the Knicks and then this year he played with me and helped me score points. It was just incredible."
Radoncic's other idol is his father, Damir Radoncic, who played handball for the Yugoslavia national team. Damir was actually playing professionally in Germany when Dino was born in 1999 in Giessen.
The family moved to Spain for Damir's handball career when Dino was five years old. They eventually moved to Zrenjanin in eastern Serbia when he was eight, and two years later Dino started playing basketball.
"My father always told me to play what I like and what makes me happy. I began with soccer and played two years of that and then began with basketball," Radoncic recalled.
The youngster showed enough talent early on that FC Barcelona Lassa came calling in 2013, and the following year he made the move to Real Madrid.
"I am really proud to wear this shirt," Radoncic says. "I'm really happy to be here because it is a privilege to play for Madrid."
And to do so alongside his idols.