Nikola Kuga (200-F/G-86) is a 25 years old shooting guard. He was born in Bihac, in the north-western part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He lived in Croatia , then during the war moved to Montenegro, and finaly to Serbia. So he can call himself a truef Yougoslavian: 'It was a really hard childhood time, but I look at it in a positive way. I can say I was lucky because I met many different people as a kid.'
Kuga's basketball time was also interesting. The 200cm serbian grew up in the famous basketball school of FMP Belgrade (the same youth program of many Euroleague players like Milos Teodosic and Nemanja Aleksandrov). Nikola collected dozens of caps in the Serbia Cadet and Junior teams. He played in Serbia (FMP) , Cyprus (Achilleas), Macedonia (Amak Ohrid), Slovenia (Polzela), Iceland (Skallagrimur) and again in Cyprus (AEK Larnaca) before being a legit pioneer on the other continents: Morocco (Sport Plazza), Dubai (Al Sharjah), the Maldives (RLC). He played in South America (Colombia, the first European ever) and in Asia (Vietnam),and was a top 5 player in the Gran Canaria 2007 Summer League and one of the best in the Malaga 2010 Summer League. Time for an interview:
Hey Nikola, your story is pretty interesting. As a product of the Serbian basketball school you decided early to play abroad. Tell us a little bit about you and your career so far.
I love challenges. As a young player I had a chance to go and play abroad. I left Serbia very early. After Serbia I played in Cyprus, Slovenia, Macedonia, Iceland... after afew years in Europe I was offered to play out of Europe. It was an great chance for me to discover new basketball worlds and start to write the second chapter of my basketball story. My first contact out of the Europe was Morocco. I was fascinated by the different lifestyle, culture, people and history, so I never regretted that decision. I spend one great year and season there, with great success. After that I went back to Europe for one season. At the end of the season I got a lovely offer from the Maldives to play a summer tournament. It was a great preparation for the next season, and a really amazing and relaxing time.
The 2011 season brought big challenges. I went to Latin America, and was the first player from Europe in Colombia ever. It was a crazy time: four games per week, 24 games in less than 2 months, and play offs. It was a really tough league, with some NBA-players. I can describe it in a few words: games, practice, travel, sleep... Of course I had some days off, but only a few times I was able to go out and see the really amazing girls in Colombia.
After this 3 month competition I shortly moved to Dubai and spend a great time with Arabic 2011 Champion Sharjah . One of the best coaches in The Middle East area, Abdul Hamid, called me to help his team for some tournaments there . I couldn't play the championship, because only 1 import' player is allowed over there, and they allready had a US Point gueard. But it was a great expierience. After that I went to Vietnam, my last stop so far.
You have played in so many countries, from Europe to Africa, South America and Asia. What did you learn from this countries and what are the main differences of the game in these different areas?
Playing basketball in all those countries and experiencing different basketball and cultures made me a really better person and a better player. I feel very blessed and thankful for my basketball experiences. I'm focused on working hard, making teams happy and enjoying basketball. I'm a player who's trying to get better and better, this is my challenge and my job.
There are many differences between the game in Europe and other places I played. Out of Europe the game is much more focused on offense. Playing as an import means you have to score 20, 25, 30 points. It's more NBA-style, the game is fast. There's more motion, many fast breaks, people like to see their teams score 100 points in a game. In Europe, teams are more focused on defence, tactics, the position game... so that's the main difference. As a player you have to be a bit more athletic and get individual skills, because you can expect to play a lot of 1 on 1 games, and have to create your own space. Also, almost 80 procent of the points come from import players. Teams are expecting points from you each and every game, while in Europe there are at least 8 or 9 players able to have a high score almost every game. It's not an easy job, but every day you learn new things and that is why I really love basketball.
Do you have funny stories about different local cultures ?
Well, you have to be flexibile and adjust your lifestyle to the local culture. There are many more differences then in basketball. My career brought me in so many countries, experiencing cultures and different mentalities and always learn more about the world we live in. Adjusting is not always easy of course, and there are a lot of funny situations happening every time. People in Asia are so friendly it's always funny walking along the streets every day, where you can just meet people asking you something: it's amazing. It's always a lot of attention. In Morocco it was always funny. Really nice people, but not so organized about basketball. On the day before a game, on the practice all team owners appear and ask the same question: Are you ok?'. Then, the next 5 days, nobody come. The taxi drivers in Vietnam were also funny. They don't speak English. They drive you around the city for 40 minutes, before they drive you to your address. All you can do is wait. Now it's really funy, but there it wasn't .
Food is a special story. You need at least a month to adjust to the local food. In Asia they always make food spicy. On the Maldives, every single meal was spicy. I told them: please bring me an un-spicy meal the next time. Always they answered: sure. And always the next meal was the same as the previous. But hey, now I like spicy food...
Well, I am not much of a different person on and off the court. I love sports. Off season time, I try to stay at least 1 month out of basketball. But I play tennis and I like to swim. The last few years, I use the summer to go in a Hiperbaric Chamber to recover after the season.
I love to discover new things. I love music, the internet. Not so much different things than everybody I guess . I like to spend time with my family. Summer time is great for that, because during the season most of the time we're not together.
What's your next challenge as a player?
Well , I am 25 years old . My previous expierience told me never to say I will go there'. So I hope I will continue to write new chapters of my basketball story somewhere in the world.
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Each year and after each competition latinbasket.com name its awards,here we go with the Liga Directv 2016-1 awards
Latinbasket.com All-Colombian Liga DirecTV-1 1st Team 2016
Academia that won the games 1 and 2 at home and then fall in Bucaramanga in the games 3 and 4, achieved the most important victory of his history defeating Bucaros 103-82 to claim a deserved championship of the 2016 Liga Directv , it was the third final for the Academia. The story of the game 5 did not had a good start for Bukaros since his expected savior Carl Elliot, who reach a verbal agreement with the team owner to play the definitive game with them, did not arrive after miss his fli... [read more]
Academia that won the games 1 and 2 at home and then fall in Bucaramanga in the games 3 and 4, achieved the most important victory of his history defeating Bucaros 103-82 to claim a deserved championship of the 2016 Liga Directv , it was the third final for the Academia. The story of the game 5 did not had a good start for Bukaros since his expected savior Carl Elliot, who reach a verbal agreement with the team owner to play the definitive game with them, did not arrive after miss his flight. And the start of the game itself was not good, a 0-8 partial forced Bernardo Gonzalez to call an early time out trying to motivate its players, and it worked but not for long, early in the second half Jonathan Rodriguez (196-F-87, college: Campbell, agency: DTMones) found his rhythm and began to score , Bukaros did not had the right mind set too many not forced turnover and bad shooting selection helped Academia to reach quickly a double digits gap, in the Academia side 5 players scored in double digits, Michael Hinestroza had another good game with 15 points and 10 rebounds. T.J. Sapp (190-G-92, college: Murray St., agency: Duran International) effort felt short his 26 pts in the night were not enough to change the story. Academia was the best team all the season, leading from the day 1 and well deserved championship for the Antioquias basketball organization.
ACADEMIA 103 - Rodriguez 32pts, Murray 16pts, Smith 15pts, Hinestroza 15pts + 10 rebs, Perez 14pts, Arboleda 7pts, Granados 2pts, Montano 2pts. BUCAROS 82 - Sapp 26pts, Almanza 10pts, Julio 8pts, Obasi 7pts, Jackson 7pts, Salazar 7pts, Bermudez 7pts, Restrepo 6pts, Parra 4pts.
Jonathan Rodriguez (196-F-87, college: Campbell, agency: DTMones) the Academias Puerto Rican guard that pulled his team during the regular season to reach the best record and the number one seed in the post-season is the well deserved most valuable player of the 2016 finals in the Liga DIrectv. Rodriguez was the heart and soul of the champions that truly depend on him to win the crown after 5 games. Rodriguez lead all the scorers with 27 points per game, 4 rebounds per game and 4 assists... [read more]
Jonathan Rodriguez (196-F-87, college: Campbell, agency: DTMones) the Academias Puerto Rican guard that pulled his team during the regular season to reach the best record and the number one seed in the post-season is the well deserved most valuable player of the 2016 finals in the Liga DIrectv. Rodriguez was the heart and soul of the champions that truly depend on him to win the crown after 5 games. Rodriguez lead all the scorers with 27 points per game, 4 rebounds per game and 4 assists per game. In the 3 victories Rodriguez average rise to 31pts per game showing that his fire power was the key to the Academia sucess in the 2016 league.
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