Rising high for dunks, hustling for offensive rebounds, blocking shots and bringing energy are traits that center Luka Zoric of Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul has brought to every Turkish Airlines Euroleague game he plays over the last three seasons. With his opportunistic blend of hustle plays, Zoric is an important part of Fenerbahce's great start this season, doing what has been expected while contributing with 8.2 points and 3.2 rebounds. But before becoming an acclaimed Euroleague player and a personal choice this past summer by legendary head coach Zeljko Obradovic, the 29-year-old Zoric took the long road to success.
It took Zoric almost a decade after he became a pro to play a full season in the Euroleague. Changing more than half-a-dozen clubs, he worked hard and stayed patient to get his chance. A true professional whose work ethic allowed him not to miss a single game while averaging 24 minutes per encounter the past two seasons, Zoric has a defined approach to each practice and each game he plays - give it all you've got.
"I don't think that you can practice energy," he says. "You must give in every practice and every game 100 percent. That's how I think and feel about basketball."
With repetition, energy becomes habit. That's why Zoric's hustle plays have been filling Euroleague highlight reels ever since he returned into the competition in 2011-12. Previously, Zoric played just a few games on two different teams, but after joining Unicaja Malaga, he started raising eybrows for his production, quick impact and consistency. Zoric finished his first full Euroleague season ranking sixth in total rebounds and fourth in offensive rebounds, a product of his willingness to fight for every ball that bounces off of the rims.
"I think that you must want to go to every rebound and must be ready to go after them all," he said.
At 2.11 meters, it's no surprise that dunks, blocks and offensive rebounds are the elements that have been a part of Zoric's repertoire for his entire career. However, he spent early years bouncing from one Croatian club to another, helping teams battle relegation. While playing with KK Dubrovnik, KK Sibenka and KK Zabok of the Croatian League, week in and week out Zoric was posting MVP-type of numbers and double-double performances. Although noticed, he was never getting a real shot in the "big leagues".
In his brief stint with Union Olimpija in 2005, and two years later during a season with Cibona Zagreb, Zoric got a taste of playing in Euroleague by taking the floor in six Euroleague games and getting as many points in them. Things finally started to develop in Zoric's favor in 2008. While he was his dominant self playing on-loan with KK Zabok, he received a call-up from in-trouble KK Zagreb five games into the season. That's where his career finaly took off.
Paired in the paint with center Ante Tomic, now an All-Euroleague center with FC Barcelona, the two players complimented each other perfectly, making them a hard-to-stop duo. Zoric eventually led Zagreb to the Croatian League title in 2011, before transferring to Unicaja Malaga. There, he quickly proved that he belongs in the Euroleague.
"The Euroleague is the best basketball competition in Europe, and I think that every basketball player wants to show his best in the Euroleague," he says.
Once back in Europe's elite competition, Zoric did just that – show his best. Apart from establishing himself as one of the league's top rebounders, he posted the second-highest scoring game of the season, 32 points in a Top 16 road game against Real Madrid. His second opportunity had come, and Zoric made the most of it.
"I think I was a few years older, with a few more years of experience, and somebody gave me a chance to play more in the Euroleague," he explains.
Now, after going through years of relegation battles in the Croatian League, his journey has landed him at a club that aims at Europe's most-coveted prize, the Turkish Airlines Euroleague title, something Zoric couldn't imagine thinking about just a few years ago.
"Did I ever dream about this? I did, but I woke up really fast," Zoric laughs. "My career had a different path than what some other players did. Maybe I am even glad it went that way. My career gave me a chance to seen the other side of basketball. Most players have seen only one side, the better one. I have seen them both."