The EuroLeague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament has developed into one of the world's most prestigious stops for future stars in basketball. From 2003 onwards, more and more players have used the ANGT to showcase their talents at a young age and gain experience in international club competition. After taking his first steps in basketball in his native city of Podgorica in Montenegro, it did not take long for Nikola Mirotic’s talents to catch the eye of the continent’s heavyweights and he duly signed for Real Madrid in 2005 at the age of 14.
Mirotic continued to make rapid progress within Real’s youth system and in May 2008 he made his first appearance in the ANGT against Zalgiris Kaunas in Madrid. The Lithuanian team won comfortably, 92-66, but a stunning individual performance from Mirotic left no doubt that he was a star in the making. In his tournament debut, he recorded a double-double (15 points and 11 rebounds) plus 5 steals and 3 blocked shots in 34 minutes on the floor.
If his debut was good, Mirotic’s next game was even better. Leading his team to a thumping 96-73 victory over Maccabi Teddy Tel Aviv, Mirotic had another double-double with 25 points on 9-of-12 from two-point shooting plus and 10 rebounds. He added 3 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots for a performance index rating of 36, proving that this young man was already capable of doing pretty much anything on a basketball court. Mirotic was held to a quieter game (9 points, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block) as Real exited the tournament by losing its final group game, 100-76, against eventual champion FMP.
A few months later he was back at the ANGT to further build his blossoming reputation in a hard-to-believe fashion. The group opener of the qualifying tournament in L’Hospitalet, Barcelona, against ASVEL Basket saw Mirotic – still only 17 years old – score 24 points on 9-of-11 two-point shooting along with 6 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in an 89-80 victory. Then came a haul of 26 points (10-of-13 two-point shooting) plus 12 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocked shots in a 65-94 defeat to Lietuvos Rytas. Not bad at all…but absolutely nothing in comparison with Mirotic’s legendary performance in the final group game against FMP, which goes down – without any exaggeration – as one of the finest individual displays ever seen at any level of European basketball.
Although Real lost 84-96 and therefore suffered elimination, the game went down in history thanks to Mirotic’s outrageous performance. He scored 35 points without missing a shot: 9-of-9 two-pointers, 1 triple and all 14 of his free throws. Then came no less than 23 rebounds (8 offensive, 15 defensive), along with 2 assists, 9 steals and 6 blocked shots. That all added up to a PIR of 84 (yes, EIGHTY-FOUR), unsurprisingly a tournament record that still stands. His 23 rebounds were also a tournament record at the time and his performances in the continent’s top youth event made Mirotic the hottest young prospect in European basketball – a status he has more than lived up to in the years that followed.