How much do you think you have grown as a player in the last year?
Nikola Mirotic: It’s been a super important and key year for me because I’ve made a lot of progress. I’ve done things real well. But this has to be just the beginning for me. I know I can keep improving. I’m working on it and I expect bigger things for myself.
What’s the main reason of this improvement in your game this year?
NM: Last year I worked real well and Ettore Messina helped me. This year, there’s a lot of expectations on me. I have to keep improving in several areas – most notably defense and some tactical stuff. Time will tell, but I hope I can help [Real Madrid] any way I can.
Individually, what would be a good season for you?
NM: I don’t know. I always think team first. Our goal is to contend for every title. We didn’t start in the best possible way at the Supercup, we couldn’t win it, but we have the ACB League, the Cup, the Euroleague… As for myself, I don’t know what to tell you. Being 20, you can’t just focus on improving one or two things. I have to improve in every area.
How was your first year in Spain after leaving Montenegro when you were 15?
NM: It was a difficult year because I came over here without knowing the language and it was a big change for me. But I was lucky my parents came with me. All in all, I adjusted pretty well because I learned the language real quick and they have always taken care of me. Never missed a thing. I’ve worked a lot with coaches, practicing in the morning and the evening. They have made me feel like I’m home.
Are you still living with your parents?
NM: No, I live with my girlfriend now.
How was your life in Montenegro?
NM: I went to Joker school there. I was lucky to meet my personal coach Jadran Vujacic there. He taught me everything. I still have a great relationship with him. We always work together in the summer when we have free time. He’s always been by my side for the good and the bad.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, you were kind of hinting that you were probably going to pull your name out of the draft. But you didn’t. What happened?
NM: I was thrilled by the Chicago option. I had talked with them and I was thrilled and attracted by this possibility. So I stayed in the draft because of Chicago.
So you knew Chicago was going to select you for sure? [The Bulls acquired the draft rights to Mirotic, who was initially selected by the Rockets].
NM: You can never be 100 percent sure, but I kind of knew they were going to pick me.
When did you learn that?
NM: Maybe 2-3 weeks before the draft.
What was reaction when it was confirmed that you were Chicago’s choice?
NM: I was very happy. I spoke with (Bulls international scout) Ivica Dukan, who’s Croatian, and I was very thrilled. I think it’s a team that’s growing and has a lot of young players. Time will tell exactly when I go over there or if I go (laughs). Right now, I’m happy and I want to reach my goals here.
Why were you so attracted to the Bulls?
NM: They have a great history and they are building a great team. Of course, I like the coach and the manager is Croatian and I’m familiar with him. So my decision to stay in the draft was perfect.
Do you see yourself playing at the power forward spot throughout your career or would you like to make a transition to the small forward spot?
NM: I see myself as a power forward, but one that can play outside and shoot the three, go to the hole… Play an all-around game.
A lot like Nowitzki.
NM: I would like it like that, yes.
For how long do you see yourself playing with Real Madrid?
NM: I re-signed for five years with an NBA out. We’ll see what happens. I still can’t tell if I’m leaving in two, three, four or five years. I’m thinking about this year right now. I can’t tell how long I’m going to stay.
But you don’t plan to play your whole career in Europe like Dejan Bodiroga, right?
NM: No, I would like to make that jump to the NBA.
You re-signed with Real Madrid with a better contract. How much has your life changed after that?
NM: Of course my life has changed, but I try not to change much myself. You can live a more comfortable life, but the most important thing is being who you were before and keep working as much… And having your own house, of course (laughs).