Goran Jurak is the last line of defense for Union Olimpija. With 5.8 rebounds per game, Jurak is the best rebounder for the Group B co-leaders. And since Union Olimpija is everybody's choice as the revelation of this European basketball season, that makes Jurak (201, 22) a revelation himself. Though he is an athlete from head to toe, Jurak's basketball career started relatively late. He did not join a club until age 15. That's because his previous passion, swimming, brought him to unparalleled heights as the Slovenian record-holder in the 50- and 100-meter sprints. Those records were so fast - 24.15 seconds over 50 meters, 52.99 over 100 - that it took a world record holder in short-course pools, fellow Slovenian Peter Mankoc, to break Jurak's records. But Jurak's talent in the pool was so strong that he still holds the 100-meter Slovenian record for ages 14 and under. But if his past was in the pool, Jurak's future is on the parquet. Jurak clearly enjoys the give-and-take under the boards, since he commits the third-most fouls in the Euroleague so far (4.1 per game), but also gets fouled more (5.6 per game) than all but seven other players. "I am still learning the secrets of how to play," he says.
How did your sports career begin?
When I was young, I was interested in all sports. I joined swimming because my big brother Gregor also swam in the local club in Celje. But in addition to swimming, I always liked ball sports, above all of them basketball. In secondary school, when I was 15, I began to train at basketball, too, with KK Celje. Even though I had been swimming 11 years, I decided on basketball.
Why did you change sports? You had great results and were a great talent at swimming.
Swimming had no future in my city and I also could not put up with the rhythm of double practices. I woke up at six in the morning, went straight to the pool, then to school and individual practice. After lunch and a rest, I went back in the water, and then I finished the day at basketball practice. When I turned 17, I switched definitively from the water to the parquet.
The jump from an individual sport to a team sport is not very common among athletes, and few reach high levels in two sports.
I am naturally explosive. Physically, I never had problems fighting under the rims, and what's more, I always liked team sports more. They are more dynamic. But honestly, I never would have imagined that after being on the swimming national team I would make the basketball national team, too.
Your development was fast. From the best junior swimmer in Slovenia you arrived, in less than 10 years, to being a Euroleague player with a bright future. What's your secret?
In swimming, my results were good enough to make the effort and the hard practices worthwhile, while in basketball there exists also the money factor. That motivates you too, even though in the beginning it didn't concern me. For me, basketball has always been satisfying and fun. I am still learning the secrets of how to play, and my goal is the get better every day. My objective is to be better than in the last game.
Union Olimpija has begun the season extremely well, winning beyond expectations, and you are one of the main players for Tomo Mahoric. How do you see the season so far?
Surely no one at the start of the season thought we could win against so many big teams and be so high in the standings in both leagues we play in. But we're a team of good players with big hearts and in every game, we leave it all on the floor. With hard work at practice and each player giving 100 percent in each game, you can surprise teams like Panathianikos, Maccabi, Unicaja, Zalgiris and others.
How far can the young and inexperienced Union Olimpija make it?
Our goals have not changed. I think that in the Euroleague, we will have done a lot if we make the Top 16, while in the Adriatic League we have to make the Final Four. It will be difficult, but I think we are good enough to do both.
Finally, tell us which teams are your favorite teams to win the Euroleague and which players do you watch most?
I think this year the Italian teams will have it very difficult to make the Final Four. My top favorite is Barcelona. Another good team is Unicaja, and you can't forget about either CSKA Moscow or Panathinaikos. Among the players I like to watch play are Quincy Lewis of Maccabi, and someone who did a lot of damage against us, Andres Nocioni of Tau. And I really like Joseph Blair of Ulker, too.