Back in 2008 the Utah Jazz used one of their second round picks on Croatian bigman Ante Tomic. The young man was supposed to be a Pau Gasol clone, what with his 7 foot stance, soft hands, solid fundamentals, and court vision. For the Utah Jazz he was supposed to be a rotation player by now. It's 2014 and the team has begun talking about using him as an asset in trades or some other non-decisive on the record stance. He was drafted back when he played in the Adriatic league, and since that time has gone on to play in the top European league, and pretty much dominate on his way to team and individual awards. While guys like Tadija Dragićević even made it to the states for a closer inspection during summer league (he didn't play in any games though), Tomic has always been an ocean away.
Until this World Cup, I presume.
I don't expect many Utah Jazz fans to watch EuroLeague play, and pay only a little attention to EuroBasket tournaments. But this one, the FIBA world cup, is going to be on all kinds of TV and internet streams. And Tomic, at his peak, is most likely going to be a big part of what Croatia does. (N.B. Croatia is in training camp right now, but I don't assume Tomic will not make the team. But there are no confirmations that he has as of yet.)
Ante is still a 7'1 bigman with soft hands who scores with ease around the basket. Either in isolation, pick and roll, or crashing the glass. It's a skilled passer, even adding very odd looking, but effective, look-away passes to his post repertoire. Even though he has height, he has yet to demonstrate to me that if can be a shot blocker at higher competition levels. Furthermore, I am excited to see how he will deal with beefier guys being physical with him on offense and defense.
It is a great litmus test, if nothing else, to see how someone like DeMarcus Cousins will fare against Topic, one of the best bigs on the planet who just happens to not be playing in the NBA.
Still, for Jazz fans watching him is going to be a funny feeling. I don't see him coming to Utah anytime soon. The Jazz also don't need him right now as they are focusing on Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Rudy Gobert. And as for a fit beyond on-court structure, off the court I don't see a guy at the top of his game, an MVP candidate, leaving all of his glory to come to Utah and come off the bench for a lotto team.
He's good. Sometimes he's great. He's "our" guy because we drafted him. It's just going to be hard to cheer for him. If he's going to look good in the World Cup does that make it harder knowing that he's not going to be in a Jazz uniform for a long time, if ever?
It's a bitter sweet meeting this summer. We'll finally get to see our guy up close and personal, but at the end of the summer he's going back home. Will he forget us? Is this just a summer time fling? Or does he "like" like us?
I want him to do well. Croatia will be in Group B, where Argentina (minus Manu Ginobili), Greece, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Senegal await. They should be no lower than third there. So we may get to see him play the USA in later rounds.
Whatever happens it's going to be interesting. It's also going to be awful for Jazz fans to watch without getting mixed feelings. He's good. He has proven that to the world by now. But if he's great . . . that is a kick in the pants.