Living abroad is an enriching experience that teaches you about life and yourself. It also offers up a fair share of hardships and it was some of those tough times that led Lazar Zivanovic to U18 Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade and a once-in-a-lifetime chance at the 2018 Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Finals.
Zivanovic helped 2014 ANGT champion Zvezda win the ANGT Belgrade for the eighth straight time in February when he averaged 10.8 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game. His best game came against U18 Umana Reyer Venice with 18 points. This is actually Zivanovic’s second season on the ANGT circuit; he posted 2.5 points at the 2017 ANGT Belgrade tourney and totaled 4 points, 1 rebound and 2 assists in three games at the ANGT Finals last year in Istanbul.
The action in the Turkish metropolis was something that Zivanovic and the rest of the Zvezda team would like to forget, as they lost all three group stage games after having reached the ANGT Championship Game the previous three years.
"It was a lesson. You can only win when you play as a group and when you give your maximum," said Zivanovic, who was born in 2001 and is still a year younger than the rest of the competition.
Zivanovic and Zvezda are hoping for better results this time around, even though it will not be easy; the team has been drawn into Group B with ANGT L’Hospitalet winner and 2013 ANGT champion U18 Divina Seguros Joventut Badalona, U18 FC Bayern Munich and U18 Stellazzurra Rome.
"It will be a very tough tournament. All of the teams are very even in my opinion and everybody has their chance," said Zivanovic, who stated that his and his team's goal is to reach the ANGT Championship Game, which will be played at the Stark Arena on the day of the final of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
"We always aim high. We need to give all we have on the defensive end and then easy baskets and confidence will come," Zivanovic said.
The situation this season is very different as the ANGT Finals will be played in Belgrade - making it a home tournament for Zvezda.
"It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent our club and country on the biggest stage and all that in front of our people who are crazy about basketball. We are super excited," Zivanovic said. "It is extra motivation for us to defend our home court and everybody on my team will give 100 percent."
The fact that Zivanovic is playing for Zvezda in this month’s ANGT Finals actually has its origins to him facing a tough time abroad. In 2015, a 14-year-old Zivanovic was playing for OKK Sabac in his home city of Sabac - located about 70 kilometers west of Belgrade. Real Madrid called and asked if he would come to Spain for a tryout. He played two tournaments with Madrid before Los Blancos, understanding his great potential, asked him to stay in Spain.
"At that moment, my family and I thought that Madrid was the best option," he said. "I learned so much about basketball and about life. A lot of good friendships and good people."
But Zivanovic didn’t turn 15 until January 19, 2016, and the distance from his family - his mother is a doctor and his father an engineer - proved too much.
"Being so far from home at such a young age, I wasn’t ready to overcome some hardships," he admitted. "At that moment, the people from Zvezda called me and I decided to move back to Serbia. And that was a great decision for me. Zvezda’s youth school is the best in Europe and being close to my family really means a lot to me."
But his time in Spain was a great learning experience for Zivanovic. "Apart from Spanish, living in a foreign country alone, being part of a big club and organization and getting to know so many new people all are the amazing things that basketball gave to me," he explained.
Zvezda and Real Madrid were not in the same group at the 2017 ANGT Finals and that is the case again this year. And while he was very diplomatic about who he would like to face if Zvezda did reach the title game, Zivanovic couldn’t help letting out a secret desire - namely a repeat of the 2014 and 2015 ANGT Championship Games, won by Zvezda and Madrid, respectively.
"We respect every team that will be at the ANGT. They all fought for their place in the final eight so we treat them equally and there is no difference when you play against Real Madrid or anybody else there," he said. "Of course it would be a great opportunity to see my friends and have a good time."
Among Zivanovic’s former cadet teammates at Madrid still on the team are Usman Garuba, Mario Nakic, Kareem Queeley and Golden Dike. Still, Zivanovic knows the focus for Zvezda throughout the tournament must be on their own team.
"We are a talented group where everybody is willing to do what is best for the team," Zivanovic said as the reason why Zvezda could hoist its second U18 continental crown.
And Zivanovic can call upon the lessons learned during those hardships abroad.