Dzanan Musa’s NBA dream started with him crying himself to sleep every night, an 11-year-old living on his own in a strange city.
The gifted Bosnian scorer landed in New York last Friday, a potential Nets target tipping off a whirlwind tour of teams with his draft stock at stake. That would be enough to intimidate an ordinary teen, but Musa is extraordinary.
After leaving his smalltown Bihac home to live on his own in daunting Sarajevo at just 11, his life changed before his voice even did. His journey to Thursday’s draft at Barclays Center began as a scared kid at KK Koš, a basketball academy, surrounded by young adults.
Musa’s parents paid for an apartment that was a half-hour hike from KK Kos and covered meal vouchers at a local college — but they were still five hours away and he was still alone in a dangerous big city, one of which he once said, “you either do the criminal, or you do the sports.” Clearly he chose the sports.
“It was strange, but you have to sacrifice to become a professional basketball player. … When you want to become a legend you have to give all to basketball. It was hard. I struggled a lot,” Musa told Indiana media. “Two or three times I packed my stuff and wanted to go home, but I realized I gave so much love to this sport I couldn’t do it.”
Musa told the Denver media his love for the game got him through.
“I fell in love with basketball as soon as I got a ball at the age of 7,” Musa said. “I was crying for 3 or 4 months all day, before and after practice, at night especially because you feel alone, you’re 11. That helped me because I know how to manage myself. When you’re from a small town as I am and you go to a main city you have people looking at you like you’re nothing. You have to fight through that. So I fight.”
After eight years of fighting, Musa has been linked to Brooklyn in several mock drafts, including ESPN. GM Sean Marks scouted him personally in March. For a team in need of shooting, length and youth on the wing, the 6-foot-9 small forward can provide all three — if they can land him.
The Nets have the 29th, 40th and 45th picks in Thursday’s draft but are looking at moving up. They may need to do so to get Musa.
“I think I’m a lottery pick for sure,” said Musa, who doesn’t lack for confidence.
That isn’t shocking considering he went pro at 16 as the ninth-youngest player in EuroLeague history. He averaged 10.5 points in just 20 minutes on 47.5 percent shooting and 36.4 from deep. That will improve with better decision-making.
The day after pouring in 21 points to lead KK Cedevita to the HT Premijer Liga title, he drove from Croatia to Treviso — sleeping in a car for 3 ½ hours — to participate in the NBA Global Camp.
NBA teams likely respect the hustle, and Nets fans surely appreciate the fact that — despite his favorite players being Kobe Bryant and Manu Ginobili — he told ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla and ex-Hawks GM Wes Wilcox that he studied Drazen Petrovic, and would pick the late Nets star out of anybody from the past to meet.
“I had a question who am I going to lunch with if I had to pick someone from the past, and I said Drazen Petrovic,” Musa said. “The young players don’t watch Drazen because the younger generation is Steph Curry, LeBron James. But me, I watched Drazen Petrovic a lot, how he trains, how he played, so it was helpful.”
Musa has two years left on his deal with Cedevita, and they just hired Sito Alonso, the coach who benched and froze out Nets stash Aleksandar Vezenkov and potential Nets target Rodions Kurucs for being NBA-bound. Small wonder Musa has no intention of returning as a stash, but coming to the NBA right away.
He has the talent to do it. Musa has great range, unshakable confidence and the ability to hit tough shots. But his shot selection is shaky, his defense shoddy and he admits he must get bigger and stronger.
“I want to compete at the highest level and to compete with the best players in the world,” Musa told Indianapolis CBS Sports affiliate 1430-AM. “[My strength is] scoring: shooting, midrange floaters, to the rim. … I just want to get picked by the team who sees me as a project. But I think I’m a lottery pick for sure.”
“Because I work hard, I have talent and I have confidence in myself on the court,” Musa told the Indianapolis Star, saying he’s added 17 pounds to get up to 205 but admitting he needs more. “I have to gain some muscles, develop my game more physically because in Europe we do not have the guys like around here, that type of athlete. … The goal is to win a championship.”
Brooklyn is unlikely to be in the sweepstakes for Kawhi Leonard, despite his affinity for New York and GM Sean Marks’ good relationship with Leonard’s uncle/advisor from his time in San Antonio.