Townsville Crocodiles guard Mirko Djeric has gone from zero to hero in less than a week.
The vision of Djeric bouncing the ball hard into his own face circulated the nation last weekend. It was an embarrassing moment, one magnified by the instant sharing capabilities of the social media age and Australian sports fans love of the ‘falcon’.
— FOX SPORTS Australia (@FOXSportsAUS) December 5, 2015
That video’s one thing if it’s someone like Chris Goulding or Damian Martin – an established star suffering a brief moment of humiliation. But for a twenty year old kid trying to solidify himself as a pro, it’s something else altogether.
Luckily, Djeric’s one tough cookie. He handled the embarrassment well before responding emphatically last night; lighting up the final minutes of Townsville’s miraculous one-point victory over Adelaide.
The never-say-die Crocs trailed by 15 points with 4 minutes remaining in the final quarter; the 36ers seemingly cruising to victory.
Enter Djeric, who came off the bench and nailed three consecutive triples inside the final two minutes to help drag back the margin.
It was a remarkable performance, one the youngster was understandably pumped about post-game.
“That’s what you play for, to win games like that and to look up in the crowd and see everybody going nuts, that’s what you dream about as a kid,” Djeric said.
Townsville head coach Shawn Dennis decided to “roll the dice” and insert Djeric late in the fourth, hoping some extra defensive intensity and long-range shooting might give his team a chance.
“The thing you love about Mirko is his self-confidence and belief that he can make big shots. As soon as he made a couple you knew that he was going to be tough to stop,” Dennis told Downtown.
“I have faith in him. I watch the kid shoot thousands of shots every week. It’s just him learning to truly believe in himself.”
The first of Djeric’s clutch threes came with 1:52 remaining and the Crocs trailing 87-96. Some Adelaide miscommunication and Daniel Johnson’s slow-footed recovery allowed him just enough extra air space.
The second – a tough catch-and-shoot right in Adam Gibson’s eye – dragged the Crocs to within 2 with 42 seconds on the clock.
Then, with 10 seconds remaining and Townsville trailing by 4, Mirko inbounded the ball to new import Omar Samhan, received the hand-off and let it fly. It was an adaptation of Shawn Dennis’ diagrammed play, one the Crocs players set-up in the moment.
After the original play was thwarted by an Adelaide foul, the Crocs quickly flipped the script and assigned Djeric to be the inbounder.
Dejeric said later that while Samhan had been instructed to look at his own shot, the new fella was all-in on the youngster’s hot hand.
“We quickly told Omar that I’d throw it in and that if he didn’t have the shot, I’d come off for the hand-off,” Djeric explained.
“After I knocked it down he said to me: ‘Man there was no way I was going to shoot that shot, I’m giving it to the kid with the mowhawk who just hit two threes’.”
That unlikely basket opened the door for the even more unlikely chain of events that followed. With 6 seconds remaining the Crocs stole Adelaide’s inbounds pass and rookie Nick Kay threw down a breakaway dunk for the win.
With the game on the line in those closing minutes, Djeric desperately wanted the ball in his hands.
“I’ve spent a lot of time practicing late-game shots and shots with the clock running down,” he said.
“I love those situations and it was great to knock a few down tonight and help the team get the win.”
This comment during the post-game press conference had the journos in stitches: “Everyone made big plays tonight, I just left it until the fourth quarter.”
He’s right, plenty of Crocs made big plays in big moments, not least of which Mitch Norton and Clint Steindl. Jett was tough early on, while Nick Kay’s constant activity was also key.
But it was Djeric, finishing with an equal career high 12 points, who lit The Swamp alight down the stretch.
“It’s so pleasing when you can turn to your bench and throw in a young player who is twenty years of age and watch him do the things we all know he’s capable of,” Dennis said post-game.
“Mirko did an incredible job of grabbing his opportunity tonight and was a big reason why we won the basketball game. I always believe that he can hit a big shot because it’s in his nature, he’s that sort of competitor.”
What made it particularly impressive was that it came so soon after the humiliation of the so-called ‘best falcon of all time’.
“To the kid’s credit he actually can take the piss out of himself pretty well,” Dennis told Downtown.
“He took it for what it was but yeah, I said to him ‘mate you were pretty calm when that happened but I’m sure inside your head wasn’t good’. He said ‘oh mate, inside my head every Serbian word I knew was going off’.”
Speaking after last night’s game, Djeric admitted that the falcon – and the kind of awkward focus it had brought to him – did provide an element of extra motivation heading into this round of games.
“I laughed about it all week but I did want to come out and show everyone what kind of player I actually am,” he said.
“There are only eight teams in this league so there’s not a lot of professional spots for Australian players. I want everyone to know that I’m a talented young player and I’m worthy of a spot in this league.”
This story was originally published as Zero to Hero.