“101 Greats of European Basketball,” a limited-edition collection published in 2018 by Euroleague Basketball, honors more than six decades’ worth of stars who helped lift the sport on the Old Continent to its present-day heights. Author Vladimir Stankovic, who began covering many of those greats in 1969, uses their individual stories and profiles to show that European basketball’s roots run long and deep at the same time that the sport here is nurtured by players from around the world, creating a true team dynamic unlike anywhere else. His survey covers players who were retired before the book was published and who inspired the many others who came after them. Enjoy!
Velimir Perasovic – The professional scorer
In the history of European cups, there are few players who can say that they played in six finals and won four of them. One such player is Velimir Perasovic, who was born on February 9, 1965, in Stobrec, Croatia. He was a triple EuroLeague champ with Jugoplastika (1989, 1990, 1991), a Saporta Cup champ in 1996 with Taugres Vitoria, and also a finalist in the latter competition in 1994 and 1995. If we add his titles with the Yugoslav and Croatian national teams, and his individual marks with his teams in Yugoslavia and Spain, we have the story of one of the most-crowned players in the history of European basketball.
In a brilliant career that lasted for 24 years, Perasovic was always an outstanding scorer, a killer in whom his coaches always showed the utmost confidence. He played alongside other great scorers, like Toni Kukoc and Dusko Ivanovic in Split, or Drazen Petrovic, Zarko Paspalj, Sasha Djordjevic, Predrag Danilovic and Danko Cvjeticanin on the national teams. But many times, the last shot was for Perasovic. He had an excellent shot, a wonderful touch. Curiously enough, of the hundreds of baskets by him that I saw live or on TV, the one that I remember the most is a triple that beat the buzzer…in the first half. In the 1990 EuroLeague final in Zaragoza, Jugoplastika was always ahead but the difference was slim, and it always looked like FC Barcelona could come back at any given moment. With seconds left in the first half, Jugoplastika was winning 37-36, but Barcelona had the ball and the chance to hit the locker rooms ahead on the scoreboard. But they missed their shot, and the ball made it to Perasovic’s hands. He ran a few meters and, from mid-court, shot and hit the three-pointer for a 40-36 lead at the break. It was one of those shots that affect opponents psychologically. In the second half, Barcelona was always behind and, in the end, lost 70-65.
The great Drazen Petrovic was only three months older than Perasovic. Drazen was born in October of 1964 and Peras, as almost everybody calls him, in the winter of 1965. They belonged to the same generation. In some ways, this worked against Perasovic because Petrovic was a true star on the court and also a media reference point. But, while they played together for 11 years on the national teams of Yugoslavia and Croatia, Peras earned his place in the basketball history of both countries.
If I remember correctly, we heard the name Perasovic for the first time when the Yugoslav federation announced the list of players for the 1981 European Championship for Cadets in Athens. The names were Drazen Petrovic, Stojko Vrankovic, Zoran Sretenovic, Sasa Radunovic and Velimir Perasovic, among others. Drazen wowed everyone by averaging 32.4 points, and he surpassed 40 points three times. But Perasovic averaged 13 points and he caught everyone’s attention, too. Despite being a great team, Yugoslavia finished fifth.
In the 1981-82 season, Perasovic made his debut with Jugoplastika’s first team, but in the Yugoslavian second division. In 1982, the same generation of players plus Cvjeticanin and Goran Sobin won the silver medal at the 1983 European Championship for Junior Men. Perasovic took part in the 1983 World Championship for Junior Men in Spain (13.9 points) and in 1984 he still played at the European Championship for Junior Men in Sweden, alongside Jure Zdovc, Zarko Paspalj, Ivo Nakic and Miroslav Pecarski, among others. They won the silver medal and Perasovic had an average of 24.7 points. On his club team, Jugoplastika, he was already a steady starter with 17.5 points per game in 1984-85 and 25.5 in 1985-86.
Mastered by Maljkovic
The arrival of Boza Maljkovic to the Jugoplastika bench was key, not only for the club but also for most of its young players. Signing Dusko Ivanovic to have an expert player on a very young team, Maljkovic achieved the balance he was striving for between the enormous talent he had seen – in Toni Kukoc, Radja, Peras, Sobin and the others – and their lack of experience. But, before turning his pupils into stars, the players had to suffer and work hard. Perasovic himself, in an interview for the official website of the Spanish League at the end of his career in 2004, remembered the beginnings of his relationship with Maljkovic:
“We had Boza sitting on our bench. Without a doubt, he was the best coach I ever had and the one who left the biggest impression on me. But, mind you, I hated his guts because he mistreated me sports-wise. I had many sleepless nights thinking he had something against me. However, he was only trying to get the best out of me. He said I had blood in my eyes and that he should be able to control it. I don’t know what he does today, but then he didn’t allow for the slightest mistake. He was very tough, and he always got the best out of us. I learned a lot from him.”
The fruits of that work with Maljkovic arrived soon: four straight Yugoslav League titles (from 1988 through 1991), two Yugoslav Cups (1990 and 1991) and three EuroLeague titles (1989 to 1991). In four years, they won nine top trophies. Perasovic was not the hero in any of the three European finals – against Maccabi in 1989 he scored 1 point; against Barcelona in 1990, he had 12; and in 1991 he had 6 points – but on such a great team that was logical. Kukoc, Radja, Ivanovic, Zoran Savic, Sretenovic, Luka Pavicevic, Sobin, youngsters Zan Tabak and Petar Naumoski formed a great team that dominated Europe for three years, something that has not been matched since then.
The competition to make the Yugoslav national team was tough, and Perasovic was left off the 1988 Olympics runner-up roster in Seoul and the title-winning 1989 EuroBasket team in Zagreb. But coach Dusan Ivkovic could not leave Peras out for the 1990 World Cup in Buenos Aires. The backcourt, formed by Petrovic, Zdovc, Zeljko Obradovic and Perasovic, worked flawlessly. They came back as world champs and Peras averaged 8.4 points per game. The following year, he would add the EuroBasket champions’ title in Rome to an already impressive résumé, scoring 9 points per game in the last competition of the great Yugoslavia teams. Before wearing the Croatia jersey, Perasovic had played 62 games with Yugoslavia (plus 43 in youth categories) with a total 669 points.
Scoring king in Spain
During the 1991-92 season, due to the war in Yugoslavia, FIBA made Partizan, Cibona and Slobodna Dalmacija (the new name of Jugoplastika) to play outside of their countries. The three of them chose Spain. Slobodna played in La Coruña, Cibona in Puerto Real and Partizan in Fuenlabrada. In the duel against Cibona – they were in the same group – Perasovic scored 45 points, his personal record in Europe! Against Caserta, he scored 37. Perasovic finished that season with 25.8 points on average. He was the last of the Mohicans from the great Jugoplastika. Before leaving Split, he played with Croatia in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and won the silver medal (7.9 points) together with Petrovic, Kukoc, Radja, Vrankovic, Cvjeticanin and Arijan Komazec. A humble Spanish team, Breogan, had a better sense than some big European clubs and signed Peras in his prime, at 27 years old. At the end of the season, after his 24.5-point average made him the Spanish League’s top scorer, many noticed the diamond in their midst. His good season ended at the 1993 EuroBasket in Germany with a bronze medal for Croatia, thanks to his 19.1 points per game.
The smartest team was Taugres Vitoria. Coincidence or not, in the same season that it signed Perasovic, the team reached its first European final. In Lausanne on March 15, 1994, the Saporta Cup final between Union Olimpija and Taugres took place. Olimpija won, 91-81 thanks to some unbelievable three-point accuracy, especially by Roman Horvat, who scored 33 points including 9 of 14 threes. He was well accompanied by Dusan Hauptman with 27 points. On the other side, Ken Bannister scored 32 points and Peras had 22. I was at that game and what impressed me the most was the love of the Vitoria fans for their team despite the loss.
In March of 1995, Peras and Taugres won their first trophy, the Spanish King’s Cup. In the final tourney, played in Granada, the team from Vitoria defeated Joventut 96-89 in the quarterfinals. In the semis, the team dealt with the Real Madrid of coach Zeljko Obradovic and Arvydas Sabonis – the same team that three months later would be EuroLeague champ – by the score of 86-79 with a nearly perfect Perasovic: 34 points with 6 of 8 two-pointers, 4 of 4 threes and 10 of 11 free throws in 40 minutes. In the final, Taugres defeated CAI Zaragoza 88-80. Perasovic and Marcelo Nicola had 17 points apiece, Pablo Laso added 11. The MVP of the tournament, you ask? Well, of course, it was Velimir Perasovic.
On March 12, 1996, in Vitoria, I was a witness to the first European trophy for Baskonia. The third final was the charm. At home, with its great fans, Taugres defeated PAOK Thessaloniki with a great game by Ramon Rivas, who scored 31 points. Nicola added 19 points and Perasovic had 17. Branislav Prelevic shined for the Greek team with 34 points and young Peja Stojakovic confirmed his talent with 20 points. It was Perasovic’s sixth European final and his fourth title at the club level.
With Croatia, he won the bronze medal in the 1995 EuroBasket in Athens, scoring 10.5 points on average. At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, his contribution was a modest 2.7 points and Croatia finished seventh. Back at the 1997 EuroBasket in Spain, his average rose again to 12.0 points, but Croatia dropped to 11th place. That year, at 32 years old, he signed with Fuenlabrada. He was like good wine: he improved with age.
In the 1998-99 season, he was again the Spanish League’s top scorer with 22.5 points per game. He repeated that award in 2000-01 and 2001-02 with 22.9 and 22.4 points, respectively. In 2002, he signed for Lucentum Alicante, where he put an end to his brilliant career two years later after having averaged 17.9 points at 37 years old. In his 11 seasons in the Spanish League, Perasovic put in 7,387 points and still ranks ninth all-time in total scoring. He averaged 20.9 points over 354 games and played more than 12,000 minutes. He is the fourth best three-point shooter with 882 made, after Alberto Herreros Juan Carlos Navarro and Alex Mumbru – all of whom played at least 300 more games than Peras.
After his playing days, with Dino Radja as president in his club of origin, Perasovic started a new stint as sports director in KK Split (formerly Jugoplastika). But Spain would soon become his destination once again. He coached Caja San Fernando Seville, Tau Ceramica (winning the Spanish King’s Cup in 2006) and Estudiantes. He was back to Croatia for two years to win two league titles with Cibona and take the team to the EuroLeague Top 16. That allowed him to move to Turkey to take charge of Efes Pilsen, but he would soon be back in Spain to coach Valencia Basket. He also took over the Croatian national team for EuroBasket 2015 before finding a new highlight in Vitoria, as he led Baskonia in its return to the EuroLeague Final Four after eight seasons in 2016. Last season, back at Anadolu Efes Istanbul, he brought the team within one Game 5 playoffs loss of reaching the Final Four, as well.
As a player, he was a natural born scorer. As a coach, Velimir Perasovic is a winner.