Imagine moving from your native Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia at the age of 11 and living on your own, all for the love of basketball. That’s what 19-year-old Dzanan Musa, who was selected 29th by the Nets in Thursday’s NBA Draft, did on his way to turning pro at the age of 16.
Nets second-round pick Rodions Kurucs, 20, followed a similar path. He moved from his small village in Latvia to the capital in Riga to compete at an early age and moved again at 17 when he turned pro with Spanish League power F.C. Barcelona, although he primarily played with their second-division club.
As a result of those experiences, in which they sometimes were asked to play against seasoned veterans, Musa and Kurucs come to the Nets with not only a high level of skill but an uncommon maturity for prospects their age.
“Of course, you have to be more mature when you’re such a young age, 11 or 12 years old,” Musa said of his journey. “It’s really hard. I struggled a lot. But you know you have to go over it and believe in yourself at all times. So I did that and I believe I did a great job.”
Kurucs said his grandfather started working with him and his brother Arturs in the gym from the age of 5 in his village. After playing three years in Riga, Kurucs said, “I moved to Barcelona. That was the way, that was the passion of the game that I have now.”
Musa is a 6-9 combination guard/forward who spent the past three seasons with Cedevita Zagreb in Croatia. Last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals in 23.5 minutes per game. With the national team, Musa was MVP of the 2014 U-16 Euros after leading Bosnia-Herzegovina to the gold medal.
Kurucs is a 6-9 forward who averaged 10.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals in 20.8 minutes per game in the Spanish second division. He also saw limited action in nine Spanish ACB and EuroLeague games with the senior team.
“It was very helpful for us to play in senior basketball at such a young age,” Musa said. “We’re very ready to compete at the highest level because we already know how it is in Europe to compete against grown men. We know we have to put a lot of work in, and we’re ready to do it.”
Kurucs had a slightly different take when asked how his experience compares to young American players who have come up through the AAU system and played college basketball.
“I think that college basketball is preparing the players more for the NBA because they are playing American basketball style,” Kurucs said. “In Europe, they call every foul. They don’t let you play tough. Here we can play like that. That’s what I like. That’s why I get called five fouls every time in a game.”
Musa said he can play point guard, shooting guard or small forward. Kurucs can play any position from the two through the four, which is where the Nets might try developing him as a power forward who can stretch the floor with three-point shooting.
Nets general manager Sean Marks said both players fit the concept of ‘positionless basketball” employed by coach Kenny Atkinson.
“These guys have been playing at a high level,” Marks said. “The offensive abilities of both are well-versed. Both are hungry, they’re competitive, they’ve got a certain fire and grit to them and they want to succeed.
“Those are some of the intangibles that you see behind closed doors and when you do your background on the makeup of both these young men. They check a lot of boxes for us.”