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Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs were Precocious Pros in Europe

Nets rookies spent the last three years playing for EuroLeague clubs

When he took the court for Cedevita to start their 2015-16 EuroLeague opener against Olympiacos, Dzanan Musa was just 16 years old. This did not make him the youngest player in EuroLeague history, but it did put him in the top 10.

The same year, 17-year-old Rodions Kurucs played his first season with FC Barcelona after playing in the Latvian Basketball League's top division the year before.

It was not an instant success for either. Musa played sparingly that first season after the opening-game start. Kurucs spent his first year with Barcelona's junior club. But both experiences were necessary steps for players who had outgrown their previous levels and were committed to chasing the same goal -- playing in the NBA.

They'll have that opportunity this season, when they will be rookies again making their NBA debuts after being drafted by the Nets last June.

After leading Bosnia and Herzegovina to the under-16 European championship at the age of 15, Musa was in demand. He was headed to Olympiacos in Greece before Croatia's Cedevita came in with a bigger offer -- and the opportunity to stay closer to home.

But after that precocious debut, Musa found himself as a spectator for a while.

"It was very, very, let's say challenging for me," said Musa. "That's from the standpoint of you're the best player in Europe at that age. You come into a team where you're sitting on the bench all the time. It was tough. But I had that mental toughness to get over it. I think it helped me a lot for this particular now."

Both players had already fast-forwarded their lives off the court in pursuit of their basketball dreams, moving without their families at young ages -- Musa at 11, Kurucs at 13 -- to advance their level of competition. This was more of the same.

After sharing space in Latvia's capital of Riga, Kurucs took advantage of the opportunity to live by himself for the first time in Barcelona.

"They said if you want you can go alone," said Kurucs. "I said I would go alone. So I went alone, because I always wanted to keep things in one place, the right place. But if you live with someone, some guys, somebody's maybe messy. So I choose to be alone and now that I know that it's my spot, I have my things in the place they have to be in."

That first season, Kurucs had teammates his own age on the junior team. The following year, at 18, he moved out of junior team housing and into an apartment. He also moved up to Barcelona's second division club. That was where he saw most of his action the next two years, although his three-year stint with FC Barcelona was interrupted by two knee surgeries.

For a teenager on a steady ascent, the knee injuries were a scary experience, a first real challenge to overcome.

"For me, there's no negative," said Kurucs. "For me, the negative is positive. You can always find a positive in a negative. That's what they teach me. Psychologist teaches me, you can see the positivity in the negativity. If you get injured, you can strengthen your body. Strengthen your upper body. You can put in work and someday it will get back."

Between playing for Barcelona's junior team and second division club, Kurucs shared a locker room with players mostly in his age range. Musa, on the other hand, found himself sharing the court with veterans, literally a boy among men in terms of age. Teammate James White, who had played several NBA seasons, was 17 years older.

"I think you have to get the respect of the older guys by playing good," said Musa. "But I think the more important thing is to be normal outside. You have to stay humble. You have to respect your elders for them to respect you. I realized that really quickly, so they started to respect me, they started to protect me. When the coach is yelling at me, they're like, 'just chill.'

By year two, Musa was more established, and it showed in his playing time and production. During his final season with Cedevita last year, he averaged 13.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.3 steals in 23.5 minutes per game.

"I wasn't afraid of anybody, ever," said Musa. "So it was challenging for me, but it was fun at the same time. I tried to have jokes with them. When I scored on them, I was like, 'Kid has scored on you? Come on bro." Like that. I'm just trying to have fun on the court. I don't care if I'm playing against a kid, against LeBron, I'm just trying to have fun, enjoy the basketball, and I didn't feel that development as much the first year. But second year when I started scoring 30 points, 25, it was more interesting for me, let's say.

"I had so much fun in that two years."

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