Rising Slovenian star Erazem Lorbek helped his country make history this week by earning a place at the FIBA World Championship for the first time.
In the process, the 2.09m center, who is still only 21 years old, says he grew up a lot on the court.
At the EuroBasket, he competed against some of the greatest players in in the sport, including Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki of Germany.
Lorbek played 26 minutes in that quarter-final and was charged with the responsibility of guarding the superstar, who led his side to victory.
“He’s a really good player,” Lorbek said to PA Sport.
“That is my wish, to play in the NBA against players like this. So I was pumped up, I played well. I hope I play many more games against him.”
Lorbek will play against Nowitzki in the future, too.
He was picked in the second round of this summer’s NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers.
While Lorbek will remain with Climamio Bologna for another season and benefit from the wise counsel of coach Jasmin Repesa, he has one eye on his eventual move to the US where he played college basketball briefly with Michigan State in the Big Ten.
Lorbek has an all-court game. He defends well, blocks shots, rebounds, has three-point shooting range.
But there is one aspect he wants to improve before he crosses the Atlantic. He needs to get better at one thing, specifically, he says.
“I need to become more powerful,” Lorbek said.
“But I think I have improved a lot throughout this tournament. I am looking forward to next season with my club and afterward, the World Championship.”
Because of players like Lorbek, Slovenia have a bright future.
They looked like world beaters in the first three games they played in Serbia & Montenegro, beating France, Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Ales Pipan’s Slovenians won Group D, and went straight into the quarter-final round for the first time in the country’s history but lost to Germany and Nowitzki, who is likely to be voted MVP of the EuroBasket.
“I think our problem was more mental,” Lorbek said.
“We weren’t ready to go to the semi-finals, but I think Germany was more experienced. They had played in the quarter-finals before. I think we weren’t ready to take this challenge.”
Lorbek says the mood is very upbeat in the Slovenia camp.
They finished their tournament with a 79-70 defeat to Lithuania on Sunday, which meant they return home with a sixth placed finish.
The main aim of the team had been to qualify for FIBA World Championship 2006 in Japan, though.
They did that by beating Croatia after bowing out against the Germans.
Looking ahead to next summer, Lorbek said: “We can be very good.
“We lacked a few guys this year. Great players, like Matjaz Smodis, Marko Tusek. They will join us, and we will have a few young players come in.
“I think if we can put all of this together, we can be very dangerous.
“We had a great atmosphere in this team.”