Meet Nikola Milutinov
By: Lorne Chan Spurs.com
Much of the world’s introduction to Spurs first-round draft pick Nikola Milutinov was a story told by ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla right after he was selected with the No. 26 pick in Thursday’s 2015 NBA Draft.
Milutinov wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, Fraschilla said, until bullies pushed him at a neighborhood pool. The next week, Milutinov decided to start playing basketball.
“The story is true,” Milutinov said from his home in Novi Sad, Serbia. “I was coming out of the pool when this kid pushed me back, I hit the side of the pool and got a nasty cut. The next day, I decided to start with basketball...and here I am.”
Basketball has worked out well for the 7-foot, 225-pound center. At the age of 20, he recently finished his fourth professional season in the Serbian Adriatic League. He helped lead his team, Partizan Belgrade, to two Serbian League Championships in 2013 and 2014.
Milutinov is a member of the Serbian National Team and has also played for the country's U-16, U-18 and U-19 National Teams, winning a silver medal at the 2013 World U-19 Championships.
And on Friday morning in Serbia, at about 4 a.m., Milutinov was sitting in his parents’ house when he found out he was drafted by the Spurs.
Milutinov said he was shocked for a few minutes before he “exploded” upon hearing the news.
“Hopefully, Spurs fans will see me in a Spurs jersey soon and will understand what type of a player I am,” he said. “I won’t disappoint them.”
Growing up in Serbia, where Milutinov said he idolized “Vlade Divac, one and only,” he experienced the growth of international basketball first-hand. He saw big men such as Slovenian Rasho Nesterovic and Brazil’s Tiago Splitter (who played professional basketball in Spain as a teen) go on to play for the Spurs. And Milutinov believed that could be him someday.
“The most encouraging fact is that Spurs drafted me and I will do everything to wear a Spurs jersey as soon as possible,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll be as successful as Rasho and Tiago.”
Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said on Thursday that Milutinov’s passing and offensive rebounding impressed him. Buford noted that Milutinov “improved a great deal” last season at Partizan Belgrade, where he averaged 9.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists.
Buford said the Spurs’ front office has not addressed when Milutinov will join the roster, but he’ll likely have more seasons to improve overseas before he makes the leap to the NBA.
Milutinov will not participate in the Spurs’ Summer League next month, because he will be playing for the Serbian national team.
“I don't feel comfortable talking about myself, my qualities or anything like that,” Milutinov said. “I just play hard every day and try to do my best. Hard work paid off, but this is just the beginning.”