Croatian-born power forward Luka Samanic has declared for the 2019 NBA Draft. The possible first-round selection caught up with HoopsHype.
He ranks No. 40 overall on our latest aggregate mock draft, appearing in the first round in a recent mock by SB Nation. He is a highly decorated player who in 2017 won MVP and took home gold at the FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship B. The following season at the A level, he shot 47.4 percent from three-point range and averaged 17.0 points per game.
The 19-year-old also has experience playing for FC Barcelona B and is now on the roster with Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He spoke with us about his choice to make the jump to the NBA, where he will be represented by Jason Ranne and Sead Galijasevic through Wasserman.
What made you enter your name into the draft this season, especially at your young age of 19?
Luka Samanic: The NBA has been my dream since I was a little kid. I was in Barcelona and then I was here in Slovenia this season. I worked a lot for this and I’m ready. I’m trying to focus on my game but with social media and its impact, I had to think about my next move. I’ve been working on my body and my shot and everything else that will need to translate to the NBA as a modern big guy. And off the court, I’m just trying to stay healthy and enjoy this process.
How would you describe yourself as either a player or as a person or both?
LS: I’m super competitive, I hate to lose. As a player and in normal life, maybe a little bit too much. I like to win.
Your defense is a huge part of your game, can you tell me about your defensive mentality and how it has become so integral to you?
LS: If you want to play at the top level, you have to be as good or great at as many things as possible. I want to guard the best player on the team, it’s my mission before the game. I think I can switch onto any player on the court. I am pretty fast with good lateral movement. I’m not like most 6-foot-11 guys. I can move pretty good.
I would love to hear more about your jump shot because that is something that has been applauded for you in the past. How do you think it’ll translate?
LS: I got it from my father, he was a lefty and he was a really good shooter from three. Since I started, I was always the tallest but nobody ever stopped me from going under the basket either. I think over time, it has gotten better and better. Now that things are serious, I just want it to be consistent and to score every night and every game. If the question is how many times I can repeat it, I want the answer to be as much as possible. I’m confident.
What kind of schemes do you think you will be able to fit into for an NBA team?
LS: I like to think of myself as a defender who can guard anyone and I can block shots. On offense, I can run and spread the floor because I am a good shooter. I can play low in the post, too. I can pass, too, if they need it. I can adjust my game for anyone.
Where do you feel you have been most successful and what have you been most proud of thus far?
LS: I think I can run and move well and with time, I can get stronger. I already am doing a lot in the gym to work on my physicality. I’m most satisfied with my athleticism. I want to be the best version of myself that I can be. I don’t want to play under my skill set.
I’ve read you have a background in a lot of different sports, including handball and football. How has this helped you get to where you are?
LS: If I started counting for you, it would be 10 sports I’ve played at a competitive level. Handball, tennis, football, I also did break dance when I was younger. Anything you can imagine, whatever my friends were playing I was joining. Football helped me with my running and my speed. I was just the tallest and the quickest, it helped me a lot with what I am now.
I would love to hear more about your break dancing. What music were you playing? When did you do this until? Teams love to have good bench celebrations after a great dunk or play.
LS: [Laughs] I was maybe eight or nine years old. It was rap music. I was really good, actually. If I were to do it now, it would be to Drake and Meek Mill and Travis Scott. I haven’t done it since I was a kid, though. I think I dance okay, anyway. Dancing is all kinds of fun but I don’t do it anymore, maybe flossing sometimes but nothing serious just for fun.
What do you like about American culture and what are you excited about with your move, for off the court reasons?
LS: I’ve been to the USA a few times. Last year, I was at Basketball Without Borders in Los Angeles and got to speak with Ivica Zubac who is also from my country. We texted a little bit. I like America a lot because everything is faster. It’s just a bit more fun. I’m excited about the food and going to a new continent and to meet new people. I’m a very social guy.
Have you received advice from anyone in the NBA now about their transition to the league?
LS: My friend Rodions Kurucs for Brooklyn. He’s playing there. He said it’s much different and for him, it’s much better. He got opportunities and he showed he can play. He said it is fun and he’s working and playing and he’s enjoying it. He’s a good guy, too. We played together in Barcelona for two years. He brings energy and people underrate him because he was not such a high pick. He is so hungry and wants to prove himself.
Are you nervous at all about moving across the world for this new journey?
LS: I was 15 years old when I left my home and went to Barcelona. It was tough but once I got used to the distance between my family and me then it was much easier. I learned Spanish and I got used to the food. Having left then will make it much easier to leave again now. I’m sure I’ll have someone with me in the beginning until I get used to it but I don’t think this will be any kind of problem for me.
What do you think Luka Doncic, who shares your first name, has done to show doubters that European players can succeed?
LS: I never had a doubt about him coming there and showing everybody that he was a top player. He was the MVP of Euroleague. It’s really good to see someone also from Europe doing so well but not only him but also so many others. I’m happy about that.
Is there anything else you think people should know about you that you want them to know about you?
LS: When I was younger, I had no problems but I was a kid and people may have thought I was soft. Now that I am older, I’ve worked so hard and people might not know this but I know myself and I know that I am not. I don’t at all believe that about me.