In 2017, Vasilije Micic was playing in Turkey when the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four was played in Istanbul. He bought tickets to sit in the last row at the top of Sinan Erdem Dome for the semifinals and couldn’t get tickets for the championship game! So much has changed since then. Today, Micic is on top of the basketball world after leading Anadolu Efes Istanbul to EuroLeague glory for the first time in a season that saw him capture both the EuroLeague MVP and Final Four MVP trophies, too.
With his triumphant season now in the rear-view mirror, Micic sat down for a lengthy chat with his new friend, The Crossover host Joe Arlauckas. Though their conversation covered all of Micic’s career, it focused more heavily on the last five years during which Micic has risen to basketball stardom.
Early on, Micic showed that he is not your average athlete. He grew up as a skier and his sister was an Olympic snowboarder.
[9:25] “I still believe that I am a better skier than a basketball player. This is something that my father thinks, too,” Micic said. “This is my first love. Basketball is actually second.
[10:35] “I grew up in the mountains, the most famous mountains in Serbia, and the logical thing was actually to start to ski,” he went on. “For six months a year, we had snow and there was nothing else to do. And if you have some talent and work ethic, you achieve good things.”
The strength and athleticism he gained on the slopes paid dividends when Micic began to play basketball. He was seen as one of the best prospects in Europe after leading Serbia to a silver medal at the 2013 U19 world championships, but passed through several seasons with different teams in different countries before Micic took a major step forward.
Micic also went through some tough times off the court with the passing of his mother. All of his emotions came out when Euroleague Basketball surprised Micic with a video to announce his selection as MVP for the 2020-21 season. The video included clips congratulating him from his sister and father.
[16:40] “I was also really touched emotionally by that video,” Micic said. “That was one of the most special moments for my career, in my life, because when you don’t expect things, things are prettier. When you don’t chase them and they happen, you really feel pure happiness…
[17:40] “Two years ago I lost my mother and that’s something that is a big miss for us. But for the four of us, before we lost her, she was our base for everything. We always built from that… Like every mother, she was one of the strongest people in our lives and all these words that Nina said and my father, touched me so much because I felt it through my whole body and all these memories went through my mind because I really had a lot of situations where many people from my country, many fans didn’t believe I could achieve this.”
As Arlauckas and Micic started to trace his path to basketball greatness, it became clear that the 2016-17 season in Turkey with Tofas Bursa was a major turning point.
[32:00] “Maybe the most important [step] for me was Tofas Bura in Turkey. That experience for me meant so much, privately and professionally, because I met one of the most important persons and a best friend in my life, Coach Orhun Ene. He is currently the head coach of the national team of Turkey. He gave me a chance,” Micic explained. “I put all my past to the side when I signed there and I started to build my style of basketball that I play now. I started to shoot the ball; he pushed me to shoot the ball. He forced me to be more of a scorer.”
After a strong season with Tofas, Micic felt ready to return to the EuroLeague. He could have stayed with Tofas and played in the 7DAYS EuroCup and had multiple offers in the EuroLeague, but settled on Zalgiris Kaunas, where another coach would help mold his game and push Micic to the highest level.
[39:50] “For me, it was only important to improve my game and to be on the court at a higher level. It really happened like that,” he said of his decision to sign for Zalgiris. “It wasn’t an easy year for me because Saras is a very, very demanding coach. I always like to say as a comparison, that year was like I had played five-six years at a EuroLeague level. Because the way Saras teaches players, the way he treats players on the court with the details, paying attention, especially for a point guard, was an amazing experience that I use so much since.”
Many raised eyebrows when after helping Zalgiris reach the Final Four, Micic signed for an Efes team that had been last in the league the season before. Especially because his initial role was to be Shane Larkin’s backup. But Micic likened it to Sarunas Jasikevicius’s decision to leave FC Barcelona in 2003 to test himself with Maccabi Tel Aviv. And it worked out perfectly.
In his three seasons with Efes, Micic and the club reached new heights, culminating in the 2021 EuroLeague championship. Micic tried to describe what it felt like to climb the mountain top and celebrate as a champion.
[1:17:00] “The best proof of your achievement is when your friends and your family say ‘bravo’ or ‘congrats’ and your teammates… you cannot lie to them for such a long period. When my teammates hugged me and they said to me, ‘Thank you’, to me and Shane the most, I don’t want to divide anybody, but really, I never felt that before, that my teammates came to me and said thank you. And that’s enough to describe how good a feeling it is to win the title,” Micic revealed.
With a one-hour format of exclusive one-on-one interviews, The Crossover with Joe Arlauckas goes well beyond the playing court with each podcast to delve into the life experiences that have made his guests protagonists and legends of the EuroLeague. The Crossover debuted in 2018 and has featured such current stars as Toko Shengelia, Shane Larkin and Kyle Hines, coaching greats such as Ettore Messina, Pablo Laso and Zeljko Obradovic, and legends like Theo Papaloukas, Nikola Vujcic and Mike Batiste, among others.
The guests in Season 3 have included FC Bayern Munich Coach Andrea Trinchieri, Zalgiris Kaunas star Marius Grigonis, Kostas Papanikolaou of Olympiacos Piraeus, CSKA Moscow assistant coach Darryl Middleton,Kevin Pangos of Zenit St Petersburg, Norris Cole of LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne, former champion Sofoklis Schortsanitis and two special episodes with general managers Maurizio Gherardini of Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, Christos Stavropoulos of AX Armani Exchange Milan and Paulius Motiejunas of Zalgiris.