To say that veteran swingman Jasmin Hukic of Union Olimpija has lived through an emotional couple of weeks is an understatement. After rejoining his old team over the summer and deciding to start his family in Ljubljana, Hukic and Olimpija suffered a 28-point road loss to open the Euroleague season. Skeptics assumed the worst, but there were no skeptics in the Olimpija locker room. A week later, Olimpija reclaimed its reputation as giant-killers by downing Olympiacos in the home opener. A few days later, Hukic's wife gave birth to their first son, and by the time he rejoined the team, mighty CSKA Moscow was in town for the next challenge. What happened last Wednesday night - from a jersey-retirement ceremony for the legend Ivo Daneu to a packed Hala Tivoli that reminded everyone of the good old days in Ljubljana to an incredible ending with Olimpija coming back to win on the buzzer - was the stuff of storybooks. One 28-year-old who hadn't slept most of the previous week but scored 23 points and hit 6 three-pointers will certainly never forget it. "It was the highest moment in my career," Hukic told Euroleague.net. "To beat the great CSKA a few days after my son was born was maybe the most important win of my life."
Jasmin, tell us is there any happier basketball player in the world than you these days?
"Not only the happiest basketball player in the world, but the happiest man in the world. For a few days there, I was flying. On Saturday afternoon, we had a son, so I didn't play in the Adriatic League, and the following Wednesday, CSKA came to play us. No one in Europe thought we could win, but I found some extra motivation because my son was born and our team wanted to prove to everyone that we can be a good team, too. When I came out one hour before the game and the gym was full of people, it was even more motivation. It showed what we know, that basketball is slowly coming back in Ljubljana."
To explain why, let's go in chronological order. First, how disappointed were you and your teammates to lose the Euroleague opener by 28 points at Montepaschi?
"It's funny, but when you look at that whole game, we didn't play so bad. It was just that in the second quarter, we fell in a big black hole and lost the quarter 30-8. That ended the game, but we actually played much better in the other three quarters. But if you know the recent history of Olimpija, where there have been money problems, people were already skeptical about this new team with a new coach and whether it could be good or not. When we opened the Euroleague with such a big loss, people said, 'OK, it's the same story, another difficult year.' But we took the loss as a reason to push more in practice and to prove to ourselves and to everyone else that we are good players and a good team."
Then, how did your team make the mental turnaround necessary to beat Olympiacos the next week?
"The reason why is that we have a good coach. All week after losing to Montepaschi, Memi Becirovic started talking to us and started pushing the idea in our heads that we had the chance to beat a big team like Olympiacos. He convinced us. In the first half, we just took the chance to play basketball. When we were tied after the first half, we told each other, 'Come on guys, if we push more, we can beat them.' It's our coach who gave us that push and that confidence."
All this time your wife was expecting a baby, the first in the family. Were you nervous about that during this whole time?
"I must say I was not so nervous, because my wife took care of everything about getting ready. That let me play without being nervous."
When did the baby arrive?
"The same morning that my wife went to the hospital, the team was going to Novi Sad, in Serbia, for an Adriatic League game. I talked to the coach, because I wanted to be there with my wife, especially for the first baby. So he let me stay and I spent three days away from the team to help our family get started."
Then, CSKA was coming to town. Did you have time, personally, to prepare for such a big challenge as playing CSKA?
"Actually, no. Before the game with CSKA, I had just two practices to prepare. But for me that wasn't important, because once I step on the court, I know I have to give my heart, everything for the win. Especially in our home with that crowd and those fans, every player tries to give more than 100 percent. That night for us, tactics and scouting and what the other team does was not important. We just had to play hard basketball."
Before the game, Olimpija honored Ivo Daneu and the whole Hala Tivoli crowd was dressed in green for the occasion. How special was that?
"It was very nice to see how people did not forget a guy who played 30 years before in this city. He is one of the legends of Olimpija and a member of the Hall of Fame, so for him, it was something special to step on court again where he played for so many years. It was special to see, too."
Even with that great crowd helping, you and your teammates had to beat CSKA. How did you do it?
"You know something? The whole game was more or less tied. Then, at the end of the third, beginning of the fourth quarter, CSKA led by eight points for the first time. We took timeout, we stepped together and were saying to each other 'Let's go. Let's show our character. Let's take this win. We can do it.' And I saw in everyone's eyes that we could do it. Coming back from minus-eight to beat CSKA is like a miracle for any European team. On our last offense, our captain, Marko Milic, took the ball and scored an amazing layup. That proved something big. On the day after a game like that, you wake up and think that god gave you that win."
You have been on a lot of teams, in a lot of countries. What made you decide to return to Olimpija this season?
"A few reasons. After five years playing away, I still felt like home was here in Ljubljana. I am from Bosnia-Herzegovina, but I played two amazing years with Olimpija in Ljubljana and decided to live in this country and buy a house here. In the summer, quite coincidentally, I ran into Memi Becirovic, who I knew. He mentioned he didn't have a player my position yet. Then he called me, saying Marko Milic was coming back and he wanted me to come back, too. So in that moment, I started thinking about playing for Olimpija again. My wife was pregnant, and she's from Slovenia, so it was an idea she liked. We started talking about coming back and having the baby in Ljubljana, a city we love, to make it special. Once that was decided, in a few days, Olimpija and I had an agreement. Talking with Memi and having a baby brought me back. And now I couldn't be happier."
Was beating CSKA on your home court in Ljubljana last week was a highlight of your career?
"It was the highest moment in my career. As I said in the press conference after, I scored six threes and helped my team stay tied all game, but in the end, when Marko Milic made that basket, I was more happy than him. He said it was the most import basket in his career, and I consider it my most important one, too. To beat the great CSKA a few days after my son was born was maybe the most important win of my life."