Mihovil Nakic, an octopus under the rims

Oct 20, 2013 by Vladimir Stankovic - Euroleague.net Print
Vladimir Stankovic at 2012 London Olympic GamesWhen speaking of basketball in Zagreb, the first associations are normally Cibona, KK Zagreb, lately Cedevita or also some great players there. But few people know that the Croatian capital also has a small club that produced two world champions and one Olympic gold medalists, plus several silver and bronze medalists in great national competitions. Also, these three players are owners of seven continental titles at the club level. This small club is Mladost ("Youth") which is currently a Cedevita-associated club, and those three players are Nikola Plecas, Damir Solman and Mihovil Nakic.

The first two won gold medals with Yugoslavia in the 1970 World Championships in Ljubljana. Two years earlier they won the silver medal at the Olympics in Mexico City. Nakic was Olympic champion in Moscow 1980 and also has a bronze from Los Angeles 1984. The three of them won several medals at EuroBaskets: Solman and Plecas gold in Barcelona 1973 and Belgrade 1975, silver in Naples 1969; and Nakic has a bronze from Turin 1979. At the club level, Nakic was Euroleague champion with Cibona in 1985 and 1986 and a Cup Winners' Cup titlest in 1982 and 1987; Solman had two Korac Cup titles with Jugoplastika in 1976 and 1977; and Plecas was the first winner in that competition in 1972 with Lokomotiva, arriving from Cibona.

From Orleans to Moscow

Mihovil Nakic (born July 13, 1955 in Drnis, Croatia) was also European champion as a junior at the 1974 finals in Orleans, France. Yugoslavia won all if its nine games and in the final defeated Spain by 80-79. Nakic averaged 5 points, with a high of 14 against Greece. That was also the first time we saw the gigantic Soviet center Vladimir Tkachenko (2.20 meters). The best scorer was Polish player Eugeniusz Kijewski (27.2 points). For Italy there was Renato Villalta, for France Eric Beugnot (the second best scorer, with 19.7 points) and Herve Dubuisson. A good generation. In the Yugoslav team, coached by Bogdan Tanjevic, then the young coach of Bosna Sarajevo, among others played Branko Skroce (best scorer with 17.7 points), Rajko Zizic, Andro Knego, Ratko Radovanovic and Nakic. Six years later the five of them were Olympic champs in Moscow. Except for Skroce, a lefthanded guard and great shooter, the rest were big men. The shortest one was Nakic, but despite being "only" 2.03 meters he had a great rebounding ability. Many times he ended the game as best rebounder.

Nakic, known in the world of basketball as "Nik", was not a big media star. He was not a player who drew attention because of his elegance or brilliant technique, but he was a great player. A life insurence if you will, for all coaches. Points were not his thing even though he would score more than 20. He was the key man in defense. Rebounds, blocks, guarding the best opposing big man regardless of his height... His big hands, rebounding ability and his great timing for rebounds made his defensive game easier. With long arms and long hands he sometimes looked like an octopuss that grabbed everything around him. On offense he also used his jumping, but he also had a very precise hook shot. He was a team player and many times the key man, although he also had the privilege to play alongside many legends, like Kreso Cosic, Drazen Petrovic, Dragan Kicanovic and Drazen Dalipagic. In a certain way, that led him to have less protagonism in the media.

At 18 years old, Nakic left Mladost, normally in the second or third division, to play in the first division with Industromontaza, which at the beginning of the 1970s was the second team in Zagreb. After three years, he went to the United States and signed for Brigham Young University, the same school where Cosic also studied and shined, but he stayed there only for six momnths. He was back home in 1977 to sign with Cibona. He spent the next 12 seasons there, except for one in Italy with Udine in 1987-88, and another in military service, 1982-83. It was the golden age of the team built by head coach Mirko Novosel. With Cibona, Nakic won 12 titles, making hime the third player in the history of the club in trophies won. He played 414 games and scored 4,830 points. He is the sixth-best scorer in club history.

He made his national-team debut with Yugoslavia in 1977 and until 1985 he played 75 games, plus 25 with the B team. He scored 133 points and played under several coaches. He made his debut with Professor Aleksandar Nikolic, with Petar Skansi he won the bronze medal in 1979 in Italy, and with Ranko Zeravica he was Olympic champ in 1980. With Novosel, he won the bronze in Los Angeles and with Cosic he played the Stuttgart EuroBasket of 1985.

Just 10 years after winning his first international trophy, the Korac Cup in 1972, with only eight participants, Cibona won its second European trophy in 1982. In the Cup Winners' Cup final, played in Brussels in 1982, Cibona defeated Real Madrid by 96-95 in overtime after an 88-88 tie over four quarters. Andro Knego was the hero of the game with 34 points, Cosic added 22 and Nakic 6.

Unforgettable Athens

One of the happiest days in Nakic's brilliant career was April 3, 1985. At the final of the Euroleague, again it was Cibona vs. Real Madrid. At Peace and Friendship Stadium, some 14,500 fans witnessed a great game. Cibona won 87-78 with Drazen Petrovic as the star with 36 points, but "Nik" played 40 minutes, scored 7 points and pulled 11 boards according to the official scoresheet (he thinks it was 21!). He also blocked 8 (!) shots and took 3 steals. Aleksandar Petrovic also played 40 minutes like him while Drazen played 39, Knego 37, Zoran Cutura 33 and three other players combined for 11 minutes (Sven Usic 7, Branko Vukicevic 3 and Adnan Becic 1). In other words, there were no rotations for Novosel.

Just a year later in Budapest, Cibona won its second straight Euroleague final, 94-82 against Zalgiris Kaunas, whose star center Arvydas Sabonis was expelled in minute 30 for punching Nakic. In his usual 40 minutes, Nakic scored 7 points, pulled 6 boards, blocked 4 shots and stole 2 balls. There were others in charge of scoring for Cibona, like Danko Cvjeticanin (23), Sven Usic (23) and Drazen Petrovic (22).

In the 1987-88 season Cibona could not defend the title, but didn't skip a beat in winning others. At the final of the Cup Winners' Cup in Novi Sad, on March 17, 1987, Cibona defeated Scavolini 89-74 as Petrovic scored 28 points and Nakic had 17 points and 9 boards.

After a solid season in Fantoni Udine (13.7 points, 8.7 rebounds), he was back to Cibona and after the 1988-89 season he put an end to his career. He remains in Cibona until today, having served as sports director and represented the team in the Euroleague and the ULEB. He was admired as a player and respected as a director, always keen on new ideas to improve basketball.