A day with Peja Stojakovic: Sacramento legend visits Dubai

Jay Asser 06:06 13/08/2015
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NBA King: Stojakovic.

International basketball players often struggle to transition from overseas to the NBA, but one of the league’s most successful cases was Peja Stojakovic.

The Serbian 3-point shooting maestro is well-remembered for dropping trey after trey on opponents during his 13-year run in the NBA.

The Sacramento Kings made the Western Conference playoffs every year Stojakovic was on the team, but never got past the conference finals, which they lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002.

Now, with team-mate Vlade Divac already appointed as vice president of basketball operations in Sacramento, Stojakovic is considering accepting a position to return to the team in a front office position.

Regardless of his decision, Stojakovic will join the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio in the UAE to run a basketball skills camp with Basicball Academy at Dubai Sports World from August 22-28.

Sport360 caught up with Stojakovic ahead of his visit to talk about increasing basketball’s presence in the UAE, his future in the sport and the Kings.

What brings you to the UAE?

A good friend of mine, Zoran Savic, who is part of Basicball Academy, has invited me to be a guest. I always enjoy myself in sharing my experiences with younger people, but it’s also a great experience for me learning about a new culture, seeing how basketball has expanded globally. I think overall, it’s going to be a great week.

How familiar are you with the basketball scene in the UAE and how much potential do you feel there is for the sport here?

Honestly, I’m not very familiar, but I hear that people are excited about sports and excited about basketball. It’s all about just starting and believing, putting the sport in the schools at the young age and having that as part of their life.

How has life been since retirement and what have you been up to?

Life has been very good to me. I miss basketball just like every other player will tell you, but I was prepared and I knew what was waiting for me. Right now, I’m ready for new challenges.

As a player, did you ever envision a role as a coach or in the front office after your career ended?

Obviously, this is an area – basketball – which has been part of my life for more than 20 years. It’s something I know how to do and I have a lot of experience and knowledge to share with people and pass to younger people. So one day, yes, I will probably be involved in basketball in some capacity.

How do you feel your friend and former team-mate Vlade Divac has done in his brief time as vice president of basketball operations in Sacramento?

I think he has done a great job. I think he’s assembled a great team. Obviously there’s a core of players in DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Darren Collison over there, but with the additions of Marco Belinelli, Rajon Rondo, Caron Butler, Kosta Koufos, I think he has the combination of everything.

He has a franchise player in DeMarcus, he has a leader and experience in Rondo and Butler, then he has young potential with the drafting of Willie Cauley-Stein (this year) and Ben McLemore (2014). I think it’s a well-assembled team and coach George Karl, I think he’s going to be a great fit for the team.

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What are your impressions of Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, who’s one of the more hands-on owners in the NBA, and the direction he’s taking the franchise?

He’s somebody who respects the sport. He loves basketball and he’s also somebody who wants to learn about sports as much as he can. Obviously when you own something, you want to know everything about it. He’s very supportive as I’ve seen. As of now, with the team in Vlade’s hands, it’s going in the right direction.

Do you feel DeMarcus Cousins is one of the special players in the league and a franchise cornerstone you can build around?

I really believe so. For me, he’s one of the few players who can play with his back to the basket. Probably for me, he’s a top-10 player in the NBA and he still hasn’t reached his potential. I think we’re going to see a lot more from DeMarcus.

The style of play in the NBA has evolved to value shooting, an elite skill you had, much more. How have you seen the league shift in that respect in recent years?

I think there is a lack of big men in the league and teams are being more focused on smallball. Sometimes, they’re playing with four small players in the starting five. They’re trying to spread the floor and move the ball. You can always find in every team three or four guys at the same time capable of shooting long-distance shots. I think they’re working with what they have.

You see a great example in the Golden State Warriors, they won the championship with a great ability to shoot from outside. But also they needed help in the paint with Andrew Bogut and other young guys.

During your playing days with Sacramento, the team was one of the very best in the league, but fell short of winning a title. How much does it still bother you that those teams couldn’t win one?

Sometimes it does. You’re touching a very sensitive point. We did believe at the time that we had an opportunity to win the championship. We were very close, but unfortunately we weren’t able to accomplish the goal. We do carry great memories from that time and I think that’s something Sacramento is eager to see again, a Kings team in the playoffs.

Those seven-and-a-half seasons I spent over there were the best basketball years of my life. I have created a lot of good memories, developed a lot of great friendships and great connections with the city all-around.

You finally won the elusive ring at the end of your career with the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals against the Miami Heat. How important was it to you to win a title before hanging it up?

It was something I’m very proud of. It came at the end of my career and I think the whole team of Dallas Mavericks that season knew it was kind of our last run.

We all knew and understood our roles and it was amazing. I think something that we all played for and you also have to understand how difficult it is to reach that goal.

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