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Mavs’ Luka Doncic Reveals: ‘No Sleep, Heavy Legs!’ for Slovenia at World Cup

Mavs superstar Luka Doncic spoke to reporters after Slovenia's loss to Lithuania at the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

MANILA, Philippines — After Slovenia lost 100-84 to Lithuania, the team will now compete against Italy on Saturday to compete for a seventh place finish at the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Luka Doncic, who has averaged 26.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.4 steals, wants to continue to play. 

Following Slovenia's loss to Canada, Doncic admitted that it was challenging for him to sleep. He was still processing the outcome of the game after Thursday's loss to Lithuania. As a result, he felt his legs were heavy against Lithuania, but desires to play against Italy.

"It was difficult to sleep yesterday," Doncic said. "I haven't slept much, the sensations are still very strange. The legs were heavy. I hope we play better in the next game. But we have to see how my leg will be."

Slovenia no longer had a pathway to compete for a medal after losing to Canada. The team could not earn automatic qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics since Germany and Serbia had already filled the two European spots. Given the stakes did not appear to be high against Lithuania, there was speculation about how many minutes Doncic would play — if at all. 

"There was no question at all," Doncic said. "As I have said many times, whenever I can, I will play for the national team. There is no question for me. The crowd here is cheering for us, so the atmosphere is really great."

While Slovenia entered the match against Lithuania less than 24 hours after an emotional loss to Canada. There was acknowledgement from Slovenia coach Aleksander Sekulic and various players after the game that energy was a disadvantage. All parties involved — including Doncic — expressed that motivation shouldn't be an issue, given the magnitude of competing at the World Cup.

"It shouldn't be difficult," Doncic said of staying motivated after the loss to Canada. "It's the World Cup after all. We made it to the top eight. I don't see why that would be difficult. Playing basketball is already a great motivation for me, especially for the national team. We are here. 

"Admittedly, we played the very next day, but that's how it is," Doncic explained. "I hope we play better in the last game."

Luka Doncic, Slovenia, FIBA World Cup

Doncic felt that Slovenia's defense was "took weak" and wasn't nearly physical enough in comparison to how their offense has been guarded. Slovenia has allowed its opposition to score 100 points for the third consecutive game, with Lithuania being the latest to do so. 

"We are simply too weak," Doncic said of Slovenia's defense. "We don't hit anyone, but others beat us all the time, you can see. Others press all over the court, but we are too soft."

With Vlatko Cancar and Edo Muric both suffering torn ACLs before the World Cup, Slovenia has since played at a disadvantage for an already small nation. With further injuries occurring as the tournament progressed, Doncic acknowledged the challenges his team understood it'd face. 

"It wasn't a good ending," Doncic said of Slovenia's play in the quarterfinals. "We were hoping for something more. We lost Cancar, who is one of the best basketball players in Europe. It would help us a lot. It can be seen that we also lack Edo Muric, especially his combativeness. We had a lot of problems with injuries, but we fought in every possible way."

Doncic expressed that he's proud of the team for managing to even reach the quarterfinals given the circumstances. It required an unlikely victory over Australia during group play in Okinawa, Japan, in order to clinch a top eight finish. 

"What do I know? Like I said, we gave it our all," Doncic said. "That's one of the good things. But we were hoping for a better ranking. But many did not expect us to reach the quarterfinals, but we won a big game against Australia. We can leave the championship with our heads held high. We gave it our all. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. I'm proud of the boys."

Slovenia has a tight group of players and Doncic enjoys continuing to compete with his teammates. By the time the tournament ends, they will have competed in World Cup competition for roughly three weeks, but Doncic has been with the group since late August. 

"All of our [players] are good people," Doncic said of the Slovenian national team's harmony. "We get along great together. No one has a problem with anyone. They are good guys themselves."

During the tournament, the frustration that Doncic voices toward referees became a focus of criticism. It even led to him receiving two technical fouls against Canada and being ejected with 6:37 remaining in regulation. Doncic's teammates and coach Aleksander Sekulic defended the Slovenian superstar, which he appreciated. 

"I thank him, that's really nice to hear," Doncic said of Sekulic's comments. "Someone got hit today, and the refs went to watch the tape. But when I got hot in the nose, they didn't go to see it. But that's how it is."

Luka Doncic, Slovenia, FIBA World Cup

Ahead of Saturday's match against Italy, Doncic finds value in helping Slovenia to put together a quality performance in front of the fans at Mall of Asia Arena. While the team had higher hopes for what it could achieve at this year's World Cup, there is appreciation for still having the chance to complete their best finish in history.

"Although many say that this is is a big disappointment, we still have a chance to achieve Slovenia's best ranking at the world championships," Doncic said. "I know it could be much better, which is what we were hoping for. But we all fought for the last breath. Now we have one more game and we are going full force."

Doncic has continued to play through a leg injury that he dealt with since shortly after the NBA All-Star break during the 2022-23 season. He admitted that the status of the injury is "not okay," but he remains focused on preparing for Slovenia's final game and a full NBA campaign with the Dallas Mavericks

"I do not know what to say," Doncic said. "It's not okay. At the same time, I have to prepare for one more game, and then for a whole season in the NBA."

With the focus on officiating, there was a question raised to Doncic about whether FIBA should fear losing one of its biggest stars for not protecting top talents enough. Barring major injury, he reaffirmed his commitment to continue to play for Slovenia, whether it's at EuroBasket, the World Cup, or the Olympics.

"There is also one of the questions, but I play for Slovenia, not for FIBA," Doncic said. "I play no matter what, even in the Olympic qualifiers, if only I'm healthy." 

Doncic is aware of the criticism he's received for Slovenia's results at the World Cup, given the consideration he draws from some for being the world's best player. He disagreed with being the best player on the planet, but did state regardless of circumstances, he loves playing for Slovenia and will continue to do so. 

"There is a lot of criticism every day, but I have learned to live with it. I don't think I'm the best in the world, though," Doncic said. "I simply love playing for Slovenia and will continue to do so."

Since Doncic expressed that he's not the world's best player, naturally, he was asked to share who he views worthy of such admiration. He named Nikola Jokic first, but also included Giannis Antetokounmpo and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the conversation.

"Nikola Jokic, then Giannis Antetokounmpo. So, Europeans," Doncic said. "Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is also one of the best."

Doncic is encouraged by what the youth in the Slovenia basketball federation can achieve in the future — highlighting Bine Prepelic as a prospect that impressed him during the World Cup. He also named Ziga Samar and Gregor Glas as players the team will need.   

"Bine Prepelic is a fighter, a prospective player," Doncic said. "This is his first major international campaign. I think he learned a lot in this month and a half. Samar and Glas didn't get many opportunities, but they will in the future. We're counting on everyone, we're going to need them."

With one game remaining, Doncic wants his team to put together a strong performance to bolster self-confidence and to showcase how the team is capable of playing. He believes the team has yet to put together its best effort as of late. 

"This is quite important," Doncic said of playing against Italy. "Especially in terms of self-confidence. We really had a lot of injuries, but we still have to show how we can play."

Another element to Doncic's enthusiasm for continuing to play at the World Cup involves the major fan support he's received in the Philippines. He's described it as "amazing" and desires to continue to perform for those fans. 

"This means a lot to me," Doncic said. "I didn't know of the support here. I thank everyone. This is really amazing."

The Mavs begin preparation for the upcoming NBA season in late September, given they are among teams participating in overseas preseason competition. The team has media day on Sept. 29, and will play against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 5 and 7, then against Real Madrid on Oct. 10.