Luka Samanic dominates the game as if he's played it for all of his life. But the freshly-crowned MVP of the Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Ciutat de L'Hospitalet actually started late in basketball, which is why development is so important to the U18 FC Barcelona Lassa talent.
Samanic won the MVP award at the ANGT L'Hospitalet by averaging 23.3 points, 14.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.8 blocks, 6.8 fouls drawn and an index rating of 33. Those numbers ranked Samanic first in rebounding and blocks, second in index rating and third in scoring, but were not enough for Barcelona to avoid a loss to local rival U18 Divina Seguros Joventut Badalona in the final.
"To be MVP of this tournament means a lot, but in the end we lost the final game, which is the most important thing for me," Samanic said. "We wanted to win this and go to Belgrade and the Final Four. It's really nice to win this, but without the championship something is missing."
What's definitely not missing is star potential in Samanic, who turned 18 years old on January 9. The Croatian wowed fans all weekend in the Barcelona suburb with big dunks, bigger blocked shots, an unstoppable will around the glass and impressive consistency from the free throw line, where he made 29 of 34 shots (85%).
Even though his father played the game for many, many years, Samanic did not grow up playing basketball. Marko Samanic was a journeyman who extended his career out to 19 years, bringing Luka and the family to Belgium when he was 9 months old. The Samanics would also make stops in Slovenia and Germany.
It was in Slovenia that Marko Samanic would reach his highest level, playing in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague in 2001-02 for KRKA Novo Mesto. He also played in the 7DAYS EuroCup for KK Zadar in 2002-03.
Luka said he would shoot and dribble after his father's practices as a young child, but his sport of choice was something different.
"All of my friends were playing football, and that's the main reason why I also started football," said Samanic, who also played handball and tennis before at last picking up basketball at age 11.
Playing those other sports helped the 2.08 meter forward develop his co-ordination, something that is often lacking for young, tall basketball players.
Samanic is excited about his development in his second season at Barcelona. He played last year at the ANGT L'Hospitalet and averaged 8.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 0.8 blocks as a backup player on a team that included the likes of Sergi Martinez, Arnas Velicka, Andrija Marjanovic and Nikola Zizic.
"My first year was tough, trying to adapt to Spain and the Spanish league. It was more about adapting," Samanic said. "The second year, I think I started to improve, to make my teammates better and my individual game and team game."
With many of those top players from last season gone, Samanic knew it was going to be his time to lead the team.
"There was no pressure for me because we had to play like a team if we wanted to win. Of course, there is more responsibility for some players than others. But in the end we beat everybody as a team and we lost like a team also," he said.
When asked what he learned from the ANGT L'Hospitalet, Samanic said: "We have to sacrifice more for each other. With this tough rhythm of four games in three days, you have to be ready for everything."
Samanic knows he is very far from a finished player and that there are a lot of things he is working on.
"I need to work on my body and my shot, not only individual things, but also tactical things as well," he said.
His main goal is to become a professional basketball player.
"I want to reach as far as possible and my potential will help me accomplish that. This year I want to win as much as possible and develop as much as possible."
Despite getting a late start, Samanic is more than making up for lost time and has excellent chances of becoming a great player for many years.