I have known Dejan Tomasevic since his first season at Crvena Zvezda, in 1991-92, and his more than discreet 4 points in six games. However, going through his biography again for this article, I must admit that I was surprised by his number of titles. If I calculated well, among his seven club teams and the Yugoslavian national team, he won 23 trophies plus a silver and a bronze medal and then some individual accolades as competition MVP or being on an All-Tournament team. There is no doubt that Dejan Tomasevic is one of the most decorated players in European basketball. He was a national champion 10 times with five of his seven club teams in three countries; he won six national cups in Yugoslavia, Spain and Greece. He won the Euroleague and the ULEB Cup and, if that was not enough, he was European champion three times with Yugoslavia, twice a world champion and he also has an Olympic silver from Atlanta 1996 plus a bronze from EuroBasket 1999 in France.
From football to basketball
Tomasevic was born on May 5, 1973 in Belgrade. Not like many other great players, he started playing basketball quite late, at age 15. Until then, Tomasevic had played football for Crvena Zvezda as central defender, but after growing too much in just one year, he became a bit clumsy on the football field. Tomasevic then decided to switch sports, fortunately for him and for basketball. Instead of being a mediocre defender in football, basketball won an excellent center who would make history in the sport.
Even though it is written on almost all his biographies that he started playing with Borac Cacak, that is not the truth. His very first club was Crvena Zvezda. He was promoted to the first team at age 18 in the 1991-92 season. He played alongside the late Boban Jankovic, Nebojsa Ilic, Aleksandar Trifunovic and Sasa Obradovic and he had a small role. The following season, without Jankovic, who left for Panionios in Greece, but with young prospect Predrag Stojakovic, Tomasevic scored 82 points in 30 league games. I remember the prediction at the time of Coach Boza Maljkovic. He told me that Tomasevic had big potential. The following season, with the second straight title for Crvena Zvezda, Tomasevic already contributed 14.9 points and more and more rebounds. In his fourth season, 1994-95, his average in 28 games rose to 23.3 points. That summer he made his debut in the national team and won his first gold medal in the EuroBasket in Athens. Tomasevic was not an important figure alongside Divac, Paspalj, Bodiroga, Djordjevic, Danilovic and Savic, but he made the team and averaged 3.3 points and 3 boards per game and he would stay in the team for the following 10 years, collecting trophy after trophy.
After four years with Zvezda, two league titles and one cup plus becoming a staple in the national team, Tomasevic decided to leave the club and join eternal archrival, Partizan. Crvena Zvezda fans never forgave him for this big sin, but he was looking for the best for himself and he took a giant step forward in his career. Just as he exited the club, a long period of crisis started for Crvena Zvezda, which would last for 15 years, while at the same time Partizan started its rise to domination with 12 consecutive leagues, plus triumphs in cups and the Adriatic League and becoming a protagonist in the Euroleague.
Over the next four years (1995 to 1999), Tomasevic had a prominent role with Partizan and also in the national team. At the Atlanta Olympics, he won the silver medal after contributing 6.2 points and 4 rebounds. At EuroBasket 1997 in Barcelona, he repeated as champ with 4.5 points and 3.4 boards. In 1998 he was back to Barcelona to play the Euroleague Final Four with Partizan and that same summer he won the world championship with Yugoslavia in Athens, averaging 6.2 points and 5.7 rebounds. In 1999 he won the bronze medal at the EuroBasket in France with 7.2 points and 6 rebounds.
During those four years, Tomasevic improved a lot from a technical point of view. Little by little he started overcoming his biggest obstacle, free throw shooting. At the same time he started dishing many assists, for which he got great help from Divac, another big man with a great sense for the game and passing. Most of all it was his ability to grab rebounds, especially in offense. He had that sixth sense attributed to the greats, to know where the ball would fall to. With the years, Tomasevic also gained experience that guaranteed him a high level in each game. It was almost impossible to see him play bad. When he didn’t have a good day, he always delivered and he was an insurance policy for his coaches.
In the summer of 1999, after two league titles and one cup with Partizan, he was 26 years old and at his prime. He received many calls from many foreign clubs but he decided to join Buducnost Podgorica. There, he joined Igor Rakocevic, an old teammate of his in Crvena Zvezda, but who was five years younger than Tomasevic. At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Tomasevic contributed 10.3 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game – his best performance in a tournament with the national team, but Yugoslavia fell in the quarterfinals against the excellent Canada of Steve Nash.
In Podgorica he won two Yugoslavian Leagues with Buducnost plus a cup, and was also MVP of the regular season in the first modern Euroleague in 2000-01, with 22.9 points. At the end of the season he was named to the All-Euroleague Team. From his time in Buducnost, some personal records stuck: a 42 performance index rating against PAOK and 29 points plus 17 boards against Barcelona. When Tomasevic was in Podgorica, he had a very special bet with his coach Miroslav Nikolic. For every Euroleague game with 15 rebounds or more he would have a special bonus. If he didn’t reach that number, he would pay the club a tenth of what he had agreed on as bonuses. Normally he won the bet, but his extra bonus was soon spent right after the game to pay for dinner for the whole team!
Triple-double with Pamesa Valencia
After two years in Buducnost, Tomasevic left at age 28. He also did so as triple European champ because Yugoslavia had recovered the title in 2001 in Turkey. His first stop abroad was in Vitoria, where he signed with Tau Ceramica. In his first year he won the Spanish double crown with the league and cup titles. In the cup final at home, Tau defeated FC Barcelona 85-83. Tomasevic scored 20 points and was chosen MVP. A few months later, despite having ended up fourth in the regular season, Tau Ceramica won the league title by dominating the playoff rounds at ease: 3-1 against Pamesa Valencia, 3-1 against Barcelona and 3-0 against Unicaja in the finals. That season, the duo Tomasevic formed with Fabricio Obertos was almost unstoppable. They played by heart, with unbelievable assists, many points and rebounds. They were a nightmare for rivals and a pleasure for the fans in Vitoria. Curiously enough, in the summer of 2002 Tomasevic and Oberto were also rivals in the final of the FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis. With luck by its side, Yugoslavia won in overtime after saving a theoretically lost game in the last minute. Tomasevic, in a team full of stars, contributed 6.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists.
At the end of the 2001-02 season, Pamesa Valencia signed the lethal duo of Tomasevic and Oberto, making one of the best investments in the club’s history. Already in their first season there, they won a trophy: the ULEB Cup, which also was the team’s first European title ever. In the final, Pamesa defeated KRKA Novo Mesto 90-78 on the road and then 78-76 at home behind 28 points plus 11 boards by Tomasevic – more than enough to be chosen MVP. That win allowed Valencia to play in the Euroleague the following season. It performed well as it finished second in the Top 16 with the same record as Maccabi, 4-2, who would go on to the Final Four.
On May 12, 2004, Tomasevic also entered the history books in the Spanish League as he became the fourth player ever to achieve a triple-double. It came against Unicaja, 82-66. In only 33 minutes, Tomasevic scored 14 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished 10 assists. Since then, only two players have managed to record a triple-double. Tomasevic’s assists were always a confirmation of the famous saying attributed to Toni Kukoc: “a basket makes one player happy, but an assist makes two players happy.” Outside of the court, Tomasevic was always a serious man, a responsible father of four who was happy with his family and circle of friends.
Euroleague title with PAO
Before putting an end to his Spanish adventure in 2005, Tomasevic suffered the biggest disappointment in his career: Yugoslavia ended up 11th of 12 teams in the Olympic tourney in Athens, even though Tomasevic, with 7.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists was one of the few that delivered for that team coached by Zeljko Obradovic. A small consolation was the gold medal for Argentina and his friend Oberto. Between his exit from Pamesa Valencia – 147 games in the Spanish League with 11.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 15.4 index rating – and his signing for Panathinaikos Athens, he lived his second disappointment: the elimination of Yugsolavia in the first phase of EuroBasket 2005 at home, in Novi Sad.
Tomasevic landed in Athens at age 32 in the middle of a championship team. However, Coach Obradovic was looking for an experienced player, a fighter, rebounder, passer and winner. Dejan Tomasevic was a perfect fit. He delivered, especially in the Euroleague title game against CSKA Moscow in Athens on May 6 2007. It was one of the best finals I have ever seen: the Greens won 93-91 behind 16 points and 3 rebounds by Tomasevic in just 21 minutes. He finally fulfilled his dream: winning the Euroleague, the only trophy missing in his brilliant resume. He stayed two more seasons with Panathinaikos even though he barely played in the last one due to a back operation. In the 2007-09 season, at age 35, he played with PAOK Thessaloniki and he didn’t do bad: 9.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists.
Tomasevic retired as a great champion, but he stayed in basketball. He is currently one of the vice presidents of the Serbian federation, in charge of competitions. He still has one big wish to accomplish: seeing the Euroleague Final Four hosted in Belgrade. I think that, sooner or later, he will win that one too.