Mario Hezonja for Team Croatia in 2012 (image courtesy FIBA)

“Super Mario” Hezonja anxiously waiting for time to come

He’s one of the biggest talents in European basketball. But world basketball is still a bit too big for Mario Hezonja. After getting DNPs in Croatia’s first two games at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Hezonja actually started the game against Senegal – in favor of Bojan Bogdanovic.

And the 19-year-old small forward looked good, even rising up on the break for a big dunk. Hezonja also collected an assist while committing one foul and a turnover in the first 7:18 minutes of the game. And then upon coming back to the bench, it was like he had crazy glue on his red-and-white checkered shorts.

Hezonja was plastered on head coach Jasmin Repesa’s bench the rest of the game – save for rooting on his teammates and jumping up to welcome them back for timeouts.

After not getting back into the game, he finished with just two points on the one shot and Croatia were surprisingly beaten 77-75 by Senegal.

Both teams are 2-1 going into the final two days of Group B action in Sevilla. And it remains to be seen how much Hezonja will play against Greece and Puerto Rico. But there is definitely support out there to see the Barcelona star talent get more action. The hashtag #FreeHezonja even got a bit of play on Twitter.

As one could imagine, Hezonja wasn’t exactly talkative after the defeat. But he did talk before the tournament, saying he really was just wanting to make something happen in the time he did get onto the court in Spain.

“I just want to use my minutes the best I can. If I go in, I have to use those minutes the best I can and do my best,” said Hezonja, who played in Liga Endesa and Turkish Airlines Euroleague games for Barcelona this past season.

The Dubrovnik showed Repesa in training camp that he was worthy of a spot at Spain 2014 – the second time he’s played at a world stage following his third-place finish at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship.And even though Hezonja hasn’t been playing much in the games, he’s still learning from a great group of Croatian stars, including Ante Tomic, Bojan Bogdanovic, Dario Saric, Roko Ukic and Krunoslav Simon.

“They are always by your side so you always learn a lot from them especially from Ante because he plays with me at Barcelona. I really enjoy being here and playing with them. I learn from them every day and every practice,” Hezonja said.

“I learn first of all to stay calm. You’re the youngest and you’re going to be on a big stage. Stay calm.”

While Hezonja is likely frustrated about not playing much in Sevilla, he must remember and understand that his time will come. Also that he along with 20-year-old Dario Saric, who is playing his third summer with the Croatian senior team, are two of the biggest leaders-to-be in Croatia’s team down the road.

“Everybody’s talking about the future of Croatia. Future, future and everything. But we need to stay down to Earth and not to waste our moment because our moment is now. We just have to work hard and prepare ourselves mentally and physically for this level. Because this is the biggest stage and level in world basketball,” said Hezonja.

The 19-year-old is just not quite ready to shine as bright as he hoped he would in Spain – but he will eventually.

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Tags: Croatia FIBA World Cup Mario Hezonja NBA Draft Prospects

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