Look at the U18 FC Barcelona Lassa roster and you see plenty of flashy weapons like Sergi Martinez and Luka Simanic or Arnas Velicka and Andrija Marjanovic. But there is another guy down in the blocks doing loads of dirty work.
Nikola Zizic may be a year younger than the others, but he has a veteran's experience in the EUROLEAGUE BASKETBALL ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT, the finals of which his team returns to from May 17 to 21 in Istanbul to defend their continental title from a year ago.
The Montenegro center will not turn 17 years old until April 11 but he is already playing in his third ANGT for Barcelona. He appeared for 3 minutes in two games in 2014-15, then averaged 5.0 points and 4.8 rebounds at the ANGT L'Hospitalet last season. This time around, the 2.08-meter big man was a rock of consistency in guiding Barcelona to the ANGT L'Hospitalet title with 8.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.
"It was my third L'Hospitalet tournament and the first I actually won, so I am really happy about this. I am extremely happy for my team and my teammates for showing the best they could," Zizic said. "We had a really great team. We were supposed to win this championship. We had the quality, we had everything. The only thing we were waiting for was getting it all together. We were playing a little individually before the tournament. But in the end we understood that he most important thing is the team. That's why we won."
In the final against U18 Divina Seguros Joventut Badalona, Zizic played a major role in getting Barcelona its first L'Hospitalet title since 2011 with 12 points, 9 rebounds and 1 block. That victory means that Barcelona will return to the ANGT Finals in Istanbul to defend the continental junior title it won for the first time last season as a wild card.
Zizic believes he is helped by having a group of high level players around him on the court.
"The player can play even better if he has great teammates," he said. "I know that I have great teammates, and they all have their weapons."
Barcelona coach Alfred Julbe said Zizic reminds him of former Slovenian star Vinko Jelovac, who helped Yugoslavia win a silver medal at the 1976 Olympics, gold at the 1970 World Championship and three EuroBasket crowns in the same decade.
"He's the type of old school, old way Yugoslavia," Julbe said about Zizic. "He reminds me of, going far back, Jelovak - thick. He has better technique than it looks. He has better touch, better movements than it might look.
"He has a very nice touch with his left and even sometimes with his right. He still needs to improve on his lateral movement and speed and leaping ability. But he is playing his first year as a junior and we are satisfied with him."
Zizic has been in the Barcelona system for three years total, and the Podgorica native appreciates the opportunity being given to him.
"I'm really grateful that I am part of this team," Zizic said. "Barcelona gave me something different. It's an incredibly organised club. It's a unique pleasure to be part of this club. Most of all we are not just a club, we are treated like family."
Zizic was part of the family when it won the ANGT continental crown last year in Berlin, but he did not play in the championship game in the German capital. This time, he will have a chance to play a major role in Barcelona's attempt to repeat in Istanbul in May. If they are successful, Zizic and his teammates will become the first repeat champion since U18 FMP won back-to-back in 2008 and 2009.
"That would actually mean the world to me, to prove that we are as good as everybody says we are," said Zizic. "I believe in my teammates. They are going to bring me that title."
No doubt Zizic, the man in the middle, will be doing the dirty work for them.