It took a while for Marko Pecarski, but in the process of breaking a Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT record, the Partizan NIS Belgrade big man is finally playing alongside his role model growing up, Novica Velickovic.
"Most of my role models were players from Partizan, because all of my life I was a big Partizan fan, and one of my role models was Novica Velickovic, who is now my teammate. So that's very meaningful," said Pecarski, who has played this season with Partizan's senior team and averaged 4.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in 10 games in the 7DAYS EuroCup.
Pecarski never played for the tradition-rich Belgrade club growing up. He started with KK Zemun Belgrade and then went to Mega Bemax Belgrade before leaving the country to play in Germany for FC Bayern Munich. In the off-season, he moved to Partizan. Pecarski held off the decision to sign a professional contract until after his 18th birthday - which was on February 12. Part of the reason for that was that he was considering going to college in the United States, but Pecarski agreed after ANGT Belgrade to a four-year deal with Partizan.
"I am happy and proud of my first professional contract. I believe I will continue to develop and progress in all fields at Partizan. And I will be able to justify the trust," he said.
That means Pecarski will have a long relationship with the club with which his father, Miroslav Pecarski, achieved fame by winning the 1989 Korac Cup. The younger Pecarski can always talk to his father, who helped Greek power Panathinaikos to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague title in 1996.
"My father helps me a lot in my career because he went through everything I need to go through," said Marko, whose father retired in 2000, the year Marko was born. "I talk to him and he can help me in bad times. He tells me many important things and that helps me develop myself because he knows what I have to do to reach a higher level."
Part of reaching a higher level was facing the best opposition. And at each of his stops, Pecarski took part in the annual ANGT competition - the first time just days after turning 14 years of age for U18 KK Zemun in 2014. "That was something totally new for me. It was my first international tournament and this is a big stage for young players. I remember getting minutes and it was a good experience. I felt good," said Pecarski, who averaged 2.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in three games.
He played the 2015 ANGT again with Zemun before moving to Mega for one season and then Bayern for another. He marked his fifth ANGT event this season with Partizan. One of the biggest highlights was averaging 12.8 points and 8.5 rebounds in helping Mega win the ANGT Rome in 2016 and then go to the ANGT Finals at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in Berlin.
"That was a huge thing for us to go to the Final Four," said Pecarski, who collected 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds in Berlin.
Pecarski earned a spot on the ANGT Coin 2017 All-Tournament, but the moment was not as special because Bayern did not play well. "I was not satisfied because my team was seventh and it was a very bad result," he said.
His return to the ANGT Belgrade – he played for Zemun twice in the Serbian capital – also saw Pecarski return to the All-Tournament Team. But his 18.3 points and 8.5 rebounds were not enough as Partizan lost to now-eight-time reigning ANGT Belgrade champion U18 Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade 90-59 in the final.
"It was special for me because I played with the team from my hometown, but there will always be bad feelings because we didn't win the tournament," he said.
The 2.08-meter center set a record at ANGT Belgrade in becoming the first player to appear in the tournament in five different years. Samba Ndiaye played for U18 Real Madrid in the competition four times from 2013 to 2016 and Nikola Zizic of U18 Barcelona Lassa also has four appearances, including this year's competition.
"It's a great thing that I was the first player to do this. And it's been a pleasure every time to play in the competition. Every time was a new experience," he said.
Pecarski, who was actually born in Gijon, Spain, while father was playing for Spanish club Cabitel Gijon, is nearing another all-time ANGT mark. The ANGT Belgrade final was Pecarski's 23rd game in ANGT history, which places his alone in seventh place in tournament history - three games off the record of 26 by Ndiaye, who had the advantage of playing in two ANGT Finals.
Pecarski actually has a chance to break that record as well - if Partizan gets a wild card for the ANGT Finals. Partizan would then get three group games, which could then pull Pecarski even with Ndiaye. Pecarski could then pull ahead with a 27th game if Partizan was able to reach the ANGT Championship Game.
Pecarski does not want to get excited about Partizan possibly playing in its first-ever ANGT Finals. "Maybe we will receive a wild card, maybe we won't. But that's not something we should think about. It would be a lot better if we had deserved that spot in the Final Four. But it would be nice to play that tournament in our home city."
Until then Pecarski will be playing alongside Velickovic and learning from one of his role models.