Bogdan Bogdanovic has not just been Serbia’s leader in EuroBasket 2017, he has been a model of calm when the game is on the line. In part two of our look ahead to Sunday’s final, Emmet Ryan looks at how Bogdan has grown over the past year and this tournament into a man who feels at home when things get crazy
Those leaps might not have been fouls but they were foolish risks to take. Once in the first half and again, more ridiculously, in the second. Bogdan Bogdanovic lost control. He over-committed on Alexey Shved with crazy late leaps that the refs here were always going to call. The second was a classic case of a player trying to make up for an earlier error. With Shved looking for a three from the right elbow, Bogdan jumped early, completely bypassing Shved. He recovered and got up high once again, just in time to all but beg the officials to call a foul.
These have been the exceptions in an otherwise stellar display by Bogdanovic when the going gets tough. The Turkey game was the making of him in this tournament but the calm under pressure has been obvious over the past season. On Fenerbahce’s run to the Euroleague Final Four in Berlin he looked like a grown up baller but he wasn’t quite there in crunch time yet. The past season has changed all that.
Fener had a rough regular season in Euroleague, in no small part due to Bogdan missing over a third of the campaign. Once the playoffs came around, he was ready and he was clinical as Fener overcame the crazy crowd in Athens to make the Final Four once more. Bogdan took a back seat to Ekpe Udoh’s heroics in the decider but still played his part well.
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Before joining up with the Serbia side for this campaign, Bogdanovic would likely have expected to be the second or third option for his side. Serbia has depth, Milos Teodosic, Nemanja Bjelica, Nikola Jokic, Nikola Kalinic, and Marko Simonovic, would have all been expected to make significant contributions, none more than Milos. All of them withdrew from this tournament through injury or other circumstances. Kalinic, who got injured mere days before the event, would have stung hard for Bogdan as he was a valued team mate of his at Fener and a tremendous performer when everything is on the line.
The crown fell on Bogdan as the undisputed star of this roster and he didn’t so much embrace it as he did the pressure that came with it. Against Turkey, in front of a rare full house in Istanbul that couldn’t have been much louder, Serbia were in trouble. A 10 point burst from Bogdanovic in the fourth broke the game open and saw Serbia home. It was a win that would prove the difference between topping the group and coming fourth, which would have meant Spain. It bought Serbia time to grow as the challenges got harder.
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Bogdan continued to grow into the role, dominating against Italy and then just simply being the guy when it mattered in the closing stages of the semi-final with Russia. Those moments of irration exuberance from earlier were gone. He was calm, composed, and killed off the Russian fightback.
We have become used to this as observers over the past year, when it matters most Bogdan will be the calm guy getting things done. Now he faces a most different adversary. Slovenia can and will run. Serbia has taken the guts of a tournament to believe in its bench, Slovenia had faith from the off in theirs. Were it Spain, a loss would be seen as not so bad back home but Slovenia? Only gold will do now for Serbia. After all the doubts over the roster and the early play in this tournament, expectations couldn’t be higher.
That’s just fine for Bogdan. He wants the heat, it’s where he is most comfortable. When a game is in hand, he may not matter as much and his team might slack. The most comfortable place for him to lead is when he is needed. On Sunday, he is safe in knowing that he will also be needed by those around him, to score, to create, to defend, and, most of all, to inspire.
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