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Basketball star benched on draft day

Slovak power forward Mark Rančík spent NBA draft day June 27 glued to the TV with his girlfriend at his host family's house in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. The six-foot, eight-inch (203 cm) Bratislava native had been told by scouts that he would be picked in the early-to-mid second round of talent drafting to the world's premiere basketball league.
But one by one the TV announcer read a list of names that were not his, and what he had hoped would be one of the happiest days of his life turned into a monumental disappointment.
"I don't know what happened. I really thought it was going to happen," said a dejected Rančík. "They told me that I had great potential, great talent."


Slovak basketball star Mark Rančík averaged 13.2 points per game for Iowa State University last year, but was not drafted to the NBA.
photo: Courtesy Iowa State University

Slovak power forward Mark Rančík spent NBA draft day June 27 glued to the TV with his girlfriend at his host family's house in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. The six-foot, eight-inch (203 cm) Bratislava native had been told by scouts that he would be picked in the early-to-mid second round of talent drafting to the world's premiere basketball league.

But one by one the TV announcer read a list of names that were not his, and what he had hoped would be one of the happiest days of his life turned into a monumental disappointment.

"I don't know what happened. I really thought it was going to happen," said a dejected Rančík. "They told me that I had great potential, great talent."

Rančík had impressed scouts in his final year at Iowa State University, scoring 13.2 points and grabbing 5.4 rebounds a game on a team ranked in the national top ten for most of the year. At a pre-draft tournament, he had tallied 19.5 points and collected 10 boards a game.

But on draft day, all 29 NBA teams passed on him, including the Chicago Bulls with the 30th and the Vancouver Grizzlies with the 48th picks, clubs for which he had tried out in person.

Had he been chosen, Rančík, 23, would have been the second Slovak ever taken in the draft and the first since centre Richard Petruška was picked by the Houston Rockets in 1994. Petruška's career was short but memorable: during his one year at Houston, the Rockets won the NBA title and Petruška backed up legend Hakeem Olajuwan.

Although disappointed, Rančík said his NBA dreams had not died with the draft-day snub. On July 6 he accepted an invitation to play in the Minnesota Timberwolves summer league in Orlando, Florida, where he hopes to earn a place on the team in the fall.

"I'm excited," said Rančík on the eve of embarking for the camp. "My agents tell me that the Timberwolves really like me, and that I have a good chance of making the team."

A tenacious defender, superb shooter and workaholic - Rančík never leaves practice without making 10 free-throws in a row - he will vie with 14 other players for only a few slots.

A self-described "big and clumsy" pre-teen, Rančík wasn't considering playing overseas when he first picked up a basketball in the sixth grade, much less trying out for the NBA. He was one of the shortest boys in his class when a biblical growth spurt set in during his first year in junior high. At 16 he was offered a spot on the Matador Bratislava team in Slovakia's top basketball league.

He opted instead to go to high school for two years in America, thinking he would learn English, experience another culture, and return to Bratislava.

But after his 50-point debut at St. Louis Park High School in Minnesota, the University of Minnesota offered him a full scholarship. A roster of big-time programmes followed suit.

Rančík's original coach at Iowa State, Tim Floyd, now with the Chicago Bulls, told the power forward he had what it took to make the NBA. But the Slovak protégé was dogged by injuries his first three seasons with the Cyclones, including broken bones in his foot and hand and a debilitating iron deficiency.

Healthy his senior season, he became a go-to guy on a team in the spotlight.

"I knew I was good enough," said Rančík. "I just needed a chance to show it."

Although mystified at not being drafted, Rančík has one more shot at summer camp with the Timberwolves, and beyond that, a host of offers in Europe. Whatever happens, he is more than a little in awe of how far he has come.

"I never expected any of this in my wildest dreams," said Rančík. "To go from a kid, 16 years old, not speaking English in a new country, to being considered for the NBA - it's been amazing."

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