European Prospects

News about Young European Basketball Prospects

Mirza Sarajlija – »Lost and found« or Where is he now?

December 31st, 2010 · No Comments

At the last day of the Year 2010, Luka Bassin brings us once again an excellent article on a Slovenian prospect. This time, I guess several ALBA Berlin fans will be happy to read the article as it talks about Mirza Sarajlija. Enough said I guess, so let’s go Luka.

(Luka Bassin) – It was the 27th November 2008, 5th round of the Euroleague 2008-09, Union Olimpija vs. Alba Berlin game. Already in the first quarter coach Džikić called him and 17-year-old home prospect Mirza Sarajlija went on the floor of legendary Hala Tivoli for the first time in the Euroleague. Penetration, steal, assist, three-pointer, three-pointer, offensive rebound…and some turnovers too, of course. He ended the game with 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals…and it was his first Euroleague game.

Euroleague TV covered him in November 2008

Let’s go back for a few years. He started to play basketball early (his father Adnan was very good basketball player too) and was member of Union Olimpija in all age-categories. As a 14-year-old kid he played and had a significant role in the U16 team. Later he led his U16 Union Olimpija team to the national championship 2007-08 where he was named MVP and to win at International Barila tournament in Varese (also MVP). Already at the end of the season coach Džikić called him to join practices of first team, directly from U16 team, and was impressed by his will and aggressiveness, not to mention Sarajlija’s fearless character. So he played some senior games at the end of the season and won the national championship and Cup. It was 2008-09 season when he became regular member of first team (he signed a multi-year contract) and also played for junior and young team of Union Olimpija. Beside playing in Adriatic league and later in Euroleague, Sarajlija was captain of the U18 team which played at the NIJT in Rome (he was best scorer of tournament), Belgrade and in F8 in Berlin (Union Olimpija received wild-card).

He went 6/11 from behind the arc in Berlin F8 NIJT vs Lietuvos Rytas:

Anyway-after some very good games in 2008-09 season in December, January and February, Sarajlija didn’t find a way to have good relationship with new coach and his coaching staff. He was also injured and had many problems with his knee and ankle, and at the same time all publicity and interviews didn’t affect him very good. I won’t be a judge who’s fault it was but the fact is that all parties were unsatisfied, so Union Olimpija and Sarajlija broke an agreement and he went to Bosna Sarajevo (he practiced with Krka for couple of months with his former coach Džikić) to play in Adriatic league.

He played there some good games but on the other hand he had some awful games too. Situation in Sarajevo was very bad but Bosna finished Adriatic league at 13th place and didn’t loose a place in it. In national championship Bosna was eliminated in semi-final and that meant Bosna is out of Adriatic league for next season. In 2009-10 season with Bosna Sarajevo, Mirza Sarajlija averaged 3.3ppg, 1.0rpg and 0.6apg in 11 minutes on the floor in the Adriatic league.

He was member of Slovenian youth teams at 2007 U16, 2008 U18 division B (he was chosen to all-tournament team alongside with Jan Vesely and Tomas Satoransky) and 2010 U20 this summer in Croatia, where he struggled and burned-out for the first time in his career.

Mirza Sarajlija was born on 19th of June 1991 in Ljubljana. He is 185 cm tall and it was always a question if he can play on shooting guard position (which is his natural) or he should play point guard only. I’m still convinced he is combo guard who can and must play both positions.

He is a natural born winner and boss on the floor. He has a big heart and »balls«. He is aggressive and has a great will and determination to work, learn and practice (even some people, which don’t know him well, talked around he does not want to work and he is lazy) when he is satisfied. He needs attention and carefulness and has very high goals. I’m sure he just needs the right approach and he can offer a lot. It is true that all media attention after some glory moments didn’t affect him well, but we all learn from mistakes, I think. He needs to be more focused and learn that there are obstacles in life and it is, more or less, up to every individual how to overcome problems.

He is very fast and explosive but lacks some quality muscles and some centimeters. He is an incredible shooter and good passer in general, while he has, still, some problems with left hand ball handling. Tactically he is good but needs to be more focused sometime.


Transition and fastbreak: He has the feeling to run very fast to fastbreak as wingman and can finish it in the paint or he can read bad defensive transition and punish defense with long range jumper. As ball handler he has some problems with decision making and bad passing timing, so he makes quite a lot turnovers in such moments.

Penetration: He has a quick first step and good shot fake so he can beat opponents on first step but he does not use it too often. In the paint he can finish close to basket but has problems due to his height. Sometimes he forces too much and doesn’t see his teammates in better positions. His strength is the floater in »Tony Parker style«. He prefers to drive right. Maybe his dribbling is too slow and too high, and has some problems against very aggressive defenders.

Shot: He is an excellent shooter. He has a very quick release and can shoot even when he is guarded. Sometimes he forces early jumpers but is very successful in it. He could use dribble-jumper too but he barely use it. He is very good spot-up shooter, especially from 6m75. Sarajlija uses screens very well, has good change of direction and can free himself very easy using off-screens. He can read defense and can use flare, curl or fade. His footwork is good and he doesn’t hesitate to use good positions to shoot.

Pick’n’roll game: His main offensive weapon is the long range shot from pick’n’roll situations. He uses mainly left side pick’n’rolls or right side baseline picks when he can use his right arm to attack. If there is an opportunity he drives to basket or finds open teammate. Mirza also uses hand-offs very good, especially from right side.

Spacing and cutting: He can find very good position for open spot-up shot or see open space in the paint to cut in right moment.

Passing skills and creating opportunities for others: As I said before he needs to work on his passing skills. He developed his pass to perimeter players amazingly in last two years but it is still not on the level point guard should be. He can create opportunity for teammates from pick situation or from ISO, but needs to make better and faster passes.

Offensive rebound: For his height he is extremely good offensive rebounder. He has the feeling for rebound and can predict where the ball goes.


Defensive transition: He is present in offensive rebound and sometimes he wants to steal the ball so he is late in defensive transition. He knows what to do but his character just pushing him to go for a steal and risk easy lay-up of opponents.

Rebound: He is solid rebounder and uses his aggressiveness to fight with bigger and more powerful opponents. Of course he has problems sometimes against much taller opponent who can grab the ball just above him.

Post-up defense: Many coaches like to attack him at low-post position and he developed this part of D. He is aggressive enough to deny passes and to push offensive player far from basket. He has problems when player receives the ball close to basket but he can make good and smart non-shooting foul in these situations.

1:1 defense: He is quick enough to make constant pressure on ballhandlers all over the floor. He can push opponent to make offensive foul on him since he has quick feet and feeling to put himself in right position and right place. He is pretty good in ISO situations and can follow and chase shooters through screens. His problem is that he wants to make something extra and steal the ball but in case he is unsuccessful he loses balance and is easy to beat.

Pick’n’roll defence: No problem. His aggressiveness and quickness allow him to be at right time at right place. From time to time he can be late and bumped by screener but in general he could defend pick’n’roll pretty good.

Helping & rotating: He is familiar with main rules of defense and can do things he needs to do. The only problem is that sometimes he loses focus due to earlier actions or mistakes and reacts bad in present situation.

Comparasion: Marko Popović

Mirza Sarajlija made a step back (or two steps) in his career at the moment. Right now he is playing for Mornar Bar in MonteNegro’s league and Balkan league. He is slowly earning more minutes and his stats are rising. Sometimes you need to make step back that later can make two steps forward. Exactly that counts for Mirza Sarajlija.

He needs to practice more to overcome problems with ballhandling and passing decision making, he needs to use his fighting character for positive things, he needs to remember that he played in Euroleague but needs to focus on the future. I am sure he learned a lot during his ups and downs.

I’m sure he deserves another chance and after all…he is still just NINETEEN.

written by Luka Bassin

Luka Bassin played professional basketball in Slovenia and finished Faculty of sports on University Ljubljana. He worked as head coach of High school Gimnazija Bežigrad (Jan Vesely, Bostjan Nachbar, Erazem Lorbek… were students at Gimnazija Bežigrad) and won ISF World championship of High Achools 2001 in Turkey. Made junior Final 8 (NIJT Euroleague) in 2009 and 2010 with Olimpija Ljubljana. Worked with U20 national team as assistant coach and won bronze medal in 2006 in Turkey. Worked with Goran Dragic, Gasper Vidmar, Jaka Klobucar, Emir Preldzic, Mirza Begic… in national teams.

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