The Spurs’ selection of 19th overall pick Luka Samanic wasn’t altogether surprising on draft night given both the rumored interest the team showed in him going all the way back to April when R.C. Buford himself paid a visit to Slovenia to watch the 19-year-old play. If you look at the squad the Croatian big man was last playing for and the Spurs’ history with them over the past 8 years, the pick seems part of a wider scouting trend.
The following will sound pretty basic to anyone with some knowledge of European hoops, but KK Petrol Olimpija, formerly Union Olimpia and imminently changing to Cedevita Olimpia as they merge with Croatian club Cedevita, is a Slovenian club based in the capital city of Ljubljana. They play in the top Slovenian league, in addition to competing in wider regional competitions like the Adriatic League and EuroLeague. They’ve also been a stopping point for many current and former Spurs players.
This may be a coincidence given the team’s known focus on the international game, but it is at least interesting to note how much this particular club in Central Europe has played a part in recent Spurs history. In the lockout year of 2011, after bouncing around between the San Antonio Spurs, Austin Toros and Reno Bighorns, Danny Green signed a one-year contract with Olimpija that included a buyout clause in the event the lockout ended. It did, and he returned to the Spurs and established himself as a longtime starter. Here are some highlights from his time there:
Davis Bertans played for Olimpija in 2011 when the Spurs acquired his draft rights from Indiana in the Kawhi Leonard deal. He later played for the Serbian club Partizan and Laboral Kutxa Baskonia in Spain before coming over in 2016. Here’s a promotional of him and Green.
Australian center Aron Baynes was at Olimpija from 2012 to 2013, when the Spurs signed him to a one-year deal.
Others, like Rasho Nesterovic, and Goran Dragic were also key players on Olimpija teams over the years, although Nesterovic ended up in San Antonio after playing for the Wolves for a few years and Dragic, while selected by the Spurs, had his rights traded to Phoenix immediately.
While there are likely countless relationships that the Spurs front office maintains throughout the globe that help them keep tabs on players and gain the right kind of intel, the one they’ve fostered with the Slovenian club has certainly benefited them. Here’s to hoping that continues as the Luka Samanic Era begins.