Indiana’s reasoning for wanting to play a professional Serbian basketball club in a foreign tour in the Bahamas is obvious.
The Hoosiers are in desperate need of more time together. They have a new coach in Mike Woodson and a new style of play with his four-out, one-in, NBA-style, wide-open offense after four years under Archie Miller, who found himself using two post-men on offense to go with his packline defense. They lost four players to the transfer portal last season but also added three and will be integrating a fourth transfer in Parker Stewart who joined the program in December but never suited up for a game. They’re also adding two true freshmen who could be part of the rotation, including five-star recruit Tamar Bates who might have a real chance to start.
But what’s in it for KK Mega Basket, previously known as Mega Bemax and now also known as BC Mega or simply Mega, the highly regarded Serbian professional basketball club against whom the Hoosiers will be playing exhibitions on Aug. 13 and 15? Well, for one thing, they like the idea of spending a weekend at a Caribbean resort just as much as anyone else does.
“There doesn’t need to be some big reason to want to go to the Bahamas for six or seven days,” said Goran Cakic, Mega’s general manager, in a phone interview with the Daily Hoosier.
That being said, Mega does have basketball-related reasons for wanting to play college teams in foreign tours in the summer, which is why it tries to schedule them frequently. It played Texas Tech on a foreign tour, also in the Bahamas, in 2019 after the Red Raiders fell to Virginia in the 2019 NCAA title game. It played both Michigan and Kentucky in the summer of 2018, losing to Kentucky in The Bahamas but beating Michigan in Spain.
The reason Mega does that is that it is generally a young team because it considers the production of NBA stars to be one of its primary functions. According to Eurobasket.com, of the 14 players who appeared in at least one game with Mega in Adriatic Basketball Association games last season, 11 were 22 years old or younger.
“It’s something that has been very successful for us,” Cakic said. “This is the third time we’re going to the Bahamas. We have a lot of young talent. We have a lot of players that are the same age as college basketball, so it’s something that can help us develop as we want. When we did it three years ago with Kentucky, it was a big deal, ESPN Prime time, Saturday, 6 o’clock game. It was really something. … We got an invitation from the same organization, agency who is organizing preseason games for college basketball and it’s a good opportunity. We’re trying to practice before the other senior teams because we are young and we need the time to prepare for the season.”
Mega, which is based in Belgrade, Serbia, has only existed since 1998 when it was established as a club under the name Avala Ada by players who worked in a cardboard packaging plant. By 2010 it had become a regional power and since then it has sent 13 players to the NBA Draft. The most famous among them is Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, this year’s NBA MVP, who was taken in the second round by the Nuggets in 2014 with the No 41 overall pick.
Boban Marjanovic, who has helped the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Playoffs as a reserve big man, is also a Mega alum. So is Pacers center Goga Bitadze. Filip Petrusev, a 2020 All-American at Gonzaga, averaged 23.6 points per game with Mega and was named Adriatic Basketball Association MVP before he was taken by the Philadelphia 76ers with the No. 50 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Prior to their matchup with Kentucky, Mega was calling itself “The Kentucky of Europe.” They actively make a point to build young teams and take advantage of the fact that more established clubs in Europe do not want to build teams that are that young.
“We are proud of the success we have had,” Cakic said. “We have had the same number of players drafted in our history as Barcelona, and Barcelona has had a much longer history than Mega. We have only been around for 22 years, but only the last 10 years have we had players drafted. The goal is the same, developing young talent and prospects and marketing and preparing them so that they’re two steps ahead so they can be drafted and go forward in the NBA.”
The roster Mega will bring to the Bahamas will include at least one player likely to be drafted into the NBA in the future. Nikola Jovic, an 18-year-old, 6-foot-10 power forward with guard skills, is projected to be at least a first round pick in the 2022 draft and a possible top 10 selection. He appeared in four games with Mega last season in the ABA and averaged 11.8 points per game there, making 10 of his 14 two-point field goal attempts and 6 of 15 from 3. He averaged 25.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game with Mega’s under 19 team in Serbia-1Liga. He played for Serbia in the U-19 World Cup and was the third leading scorer in the event with 18.1 points per game, leading Serbia to a fourth-place finish in the event behind the United States, France and Canada.
Playing against American college teams obviously gives players like Jovic a sense of what they’ll have to deal with when they play in the United States professionally. The college game isn’t as wide-open and three-point-shot oriented as the NBA is right now, but it’s getting there, and Cakic wants his players to get used to that style.
“We want them to be to be able to shoot,” Cakic said. “We want them to be able to defend everyone, to be able to switch. That is the kind of basketball we want to play.”