‘He didn’t have any fear’
Doncic said he was nearly trembling when he became the youngest professional player to debut for Real Madrid in the Spanish basketball league at 16.
He shot a 3-pointer in the closing moments of a game against Unicaja in 2015. “I don’t know how it went in,” Doncic said. “It was the 30th of April, my girlfriend’s birthday. So that’s a good day.”
Doncic is now known for wanting the ball with the game on the line.
“Some people are just put on the planet and they’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to do,” said Bill Duffy, Doncic’s agent, who has known him since he was 14.
Those who recall Doncic’s early days in Slovenia describe his play as the merging of genetic gifts and tunnel-vision devotion. His father, Sasa Doncic, played professionally for years. He had “the greatest court vision,” said Damir Radenovic, who practiced with Sasa Doncic and is the marketing director for the Basketball Federation of Slovenia.
Luka Doncic could always be found in his father’s shadow, begging to take shots during downtime or talking in the locker room. “He learned, maybe unconsciously, some of those veteran things,” said Marko Milic, a Mavericks assistant coach who was the first Slovene player drafted into the N.B.A., in 1997.
Playing against children his own age was too easy for Doncic. Grega Brezovec coached an 8-year-old Doncic for about 13 minutes. “OK, Luka, this is not for you,” he recalled telling him before moving him up to a group of 12- to 14-year-olds.
Doncic wanted to play so often that Jernej Smolnikar, another of his youth coaches, worried about how his prepubescent body would absorb some of the drills. He occasionally tried sending Doncic home, only for Doncic to plead with his parents to call Smolnikar to let him back on the court.