The Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Finals in Belgrade in May will have special meaning for Mario Nakic. Not only will he be returning home to his native Serbia, but Nakic will also be hoping to lead U18 Real Madrid to its second continental title. That dream became possible when they won ANGT Munich together last weekend and he claimed that qualifying tournament's MVP award.
Nakic averaged 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steal in Munich. He scored a team-high 23 points to go with 9 rebounds and 5 assists in Madrid's 77-57 win over host team U18 FC Bayern Munich in the final.
"Winning the MVP means a lot. It's a boost in your confidence," said Nakic, who was playing in his first ANGT event. "But I look at it in another way. I look at it that we got a win in the final, which is what we came here for."
Madrid has now reached the ANGT Finals for the fifth consecutive year, having won the title in 2015 after losing the continental championship game in 2014.
"We're in the ANGT Finals for the fifth year in a row, but it doesn't mean anything," Nakic said confidently. "Last year we lost. This year we're going to win again."
When asked what Madrid must do to add a 2018 trophy to the one from 2015, the 1.99-meter forward said: "We need to go in there and play hard. Nobody is going in there soft. The EuroLeague Final Four will only be the best teams at U18 in Europe after the qualifications, so we have to go there with a go-hard mentality and fight hard. We have to play like a team as we did in [ANGT Munich] and hopefully things will go like this one."
The 2018 ANGT Finals will also mean heading back to his homeland, which he left in 2015 to join the Real Madrid organization.
"I cannot wait to go and witness [the Final Four] because the atmosphere in Serbia is great, as people know when Partizan or Zvezda play," said Nakic, who will turn 17 in June.
"I'm very excited to go there and live that experience because I have never been to a Final Four. We're all going there with a lot of excitement and expectations."
Nakic learned the game from his father Ivo Nakic, who won the EuroLeague crown three times: with Cibona Zagreb in 1985 and 1986 and with Partizan in 1992. The younger Nakic, who was born in Belgrade, started his basketball career with Belgrade club Zemun. Nakic stayed there for four years until he was 12 years old.
"I always wanted to play at Partizan and one day my dad called me and asked if I wanted to play at Partizan and I said yes," Nakic remembered.
Nakic played at Partizan for one season and then tried out with Real Madrid, which then asked him to join the club at 14 years of age in August 2015.
"I knew like everyone else that it's a great club, the greatest club in Europe, the biggest club in Europe with the biggest reputation. It's a club that wins; it's a club that wants to win everything, every game, every tournament. I kind of knew what I was going in for," Nakic said.
He also said that a few familair faces already with the club, helped his adjustment.
"I was very excited and very happy when I got there. It was easy my first year because I had a lot friends there from my region: Dino [Radonic], Luka [Doncic], Domagoj [Proleta]. So they helped me a lot in my first year and I am very grateful for that."
Next up for Nakic is returning home to Belgrade with his new group of friends from Madrid to try to win an ANGT title.