By Wendell Maxey, Special to NBA.com
Posted Sep 14 2011 12:03PM
VILNIUS, Lithuania -- When Spain faces Slovenia in the quarterfinals of EuroBasket on Wednesday in Kaunas, Lithuania, all eyes will be on two brothers.
This time it won't be Pau and Marc Gasol.
For the first time in their lives, Goran and Zoran Dragic will share the experience of playing together for the Slovenian National Team in what can only be described from both Goran, 24, and Zoran, 21, as a "dream come true."
"To have my brother beside me on the team is great," said Goran Dragic, the Houston Rockets point guard who has emerged as a leader for Slovenia.
"This is the first time in my career to play with him, and after all the times we played each other growing up, this means a lot to our family."
Raised in Slovenia's capital of Ljubljana, the Dragic brothers' first sports love was soccer, but it wasn't long before they discovered basketball. When they got old enough to head out on their own to play, there was Zoran tagging along right behind Goran.
"When we were kids, I can remember one week he (Goran) was playing soccer and I would just follow him to play," said Zoran Dragic of a time when he was 11 years old and Goran was 14. "Then some of his friends asked him to play basketball and come to basketball practice, so I just followed him to practice, too."
The younger brother still hopes to follow his older brother to other places. After being drafted in 2008 (by the San Antonio Spurs), Goran Dragic spent three seasons in Phoenix as Steve Nash's understudy and heir apparent. Last February at the NBA trade deadline, though, those plans changed. The Suns traded him to the Rockets for Aaron Brooks.
In 22 games for the Rockets, Dragic averaged 7.7 points as Houston failed to make the postseason.
"Yeah, it was hard for me to be traded," Goran Dragic said. "I was surprised that Phoenix traded me, but once I got to Houston I knew they were a really good and young team and it would be the right place for me to be. They welcomed me and helped me adapt."
Dragic clung to Nash's words of wisdom.
"He told me to be strong and look forward when times get hard."
Back at home, Zoran endured his own setbacks. Soon after visiting Goran in Phoenix in 2009 -- Zoran's first trip to America and chance to see the NBA up-close -- the younger Dragic began preparing for the Slovenian National Team and a chance at the World Championship in Turkey.
The end result for the 6-foot-5 shooting guard was a crushing blow as Zoran was the last player cut.
"That was hard for me. I was disappointed, but it made me work harder to get here. Maybe that was the reason," Zoran Dragic said.
Heading into the quarterfinals in Kaunas, Zoran is averaging 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds, while Goran stays steady at 9.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
"Goran is an excellent defensive player, and Zoran is very quick offensively. Goran plays like a point guard, but he needs more confidence in his shot," said Slovenian coach Bozidar Maljkovic.
"Coaching the Dragic brothers, we hope, have many, many good games in the future. And every chance I can get them on the court together, I make sure to put them in together."
In 2013, the European Championship will be held in Slovenia, a nation that celebrates its 20th anniversary of independence this year. The brothers are proud to represent their country but still talk of the day both can play in the NBA.
"I know that's his dream. Like every player, he has to practice hard and put the time in to get better and we will see if he gets the chance. I hope he does make it there (to the NBA)," Goran Dragic said.
The younger Dragic played for Geoplin Slovan last season before moving to KRKA Novo Mesto and competing in the EuroChallange and Adriadic leagues. He was also named the Slovenian League Finals MVP in 2011.
"My dream is that I make it to the NBA so we can be the first Slovenian brothers to play in the NBA," Zoran Dragic said. "I hope I make it. I try and do my job everyday and do what is asked of me so when the opportunity comes I am ready to go."
With the Gasol brothers in tow, Spain is seen as the EuroBasket favorite. But the tale of the Dragics -- as well as their desire to succeed -- make it hard not too pull for the underdog.
"I practice hard because of Goran," Zoran Dragic said. "I want to be like him, go where he goes and that is to the NBA."