In the history of European cups, there are few players who can say that they played in six finals and won foru of them. One such player is Velimir Perasovic (February 9, 1965 in Stobrec, Croatia), a triple European champ with Jugoplastika (1989, 1990, 1991), a Cup Winners 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, he was always an outstanding scorer, a killer in whom his coaches always showed the utmost confidence. He played alongside other great scorers like, for instance, Toni Kukoc and Dusko Ivanovic in Split; Drazen Petrovic, Zarko Paspalj, Sasha Djordjevic, Predrag Danilovic and Danko Cvjeticanin on the national teams… but many times, the last shot was for him. He had an excellent shot, a wonderful wrist. Curiously enough, of the hundreds of baskets by him that I saw live or on TV, the one I remember the most is a triple that beat the buzzer… in the first half. In the 1990 Euroleauge 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 by 37-36, but Barcelona had the ball and the chance to hit the lockerrooms 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 scoreboard. It was one of those shots that affect opponents psychologically. In the second half, Barcelona was always behind and in the end lost by 65-70.
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. This, in some ways, worked against Perasovic because Petrovic was a true star on the court and also a media reference point but, playing 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 chief of the reserve of players of the Yugoslav federation, Rusmir Halilovic, announced the list of players for the cadet European Championship of 1981 in Athens. The names were Drazen Petrovic, Stojko Vrankovic, Zoran Sretenovic, Sasha Radunovic and Velimir Perasovic among others. Drazen wowed everyone with averages of 32.4 points and he surpassed the 40 points three times. But Perasovic averaged 13 points and also caught everyone’s attention. Despite a great team, Yugoslavia finished fifth.
In the 1981-82 season Perasovic made his debut with Jugoplastika’s first team… but in the second division. In 1982, the same generation of players plus Cvjeticanin and Goran Sobin won the silver medal at the junior EuroBasket of 1983. He took part in the junior World championship in Spain (13.9 points) and in 1984 he still played at the junior EuroBasket 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 team, Jugoplastika, he was a steady starter with 17.5 points per game in 1984-85 and 25.5 in 1985-86.
‘Mistreated’ 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 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 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 straighit Yugoslav League titles (1988, ’89, ’90 and ’91), two Yugoslav Cups (1990 and ’91) and three Euroleague titles (1989, ’90 and ’91). In four years, nine top trophies. Perasovic was not the hero in any of the three European finals (against Maccabi in 1989 he scored 1 points, against Barcelona in 1990 he had 12 and in 1991 he had 6) but in such a great team that was logical. Kukoc, Radja, Ivanovic, Savic, Sretenovic, Pavicevic, Sobin, youngsters Zan Tabak, Petar Naumoski… formed a great team that dominated Europe for three years, something that has not been matched since then.
The tough competition to make the Yugoslav national team, the Olympics runner-up in Seoul 1988 and European champion in Zagreb in 1989, left Perasovic out, but for the 1990 World Championship in Buenos Aires coach Dusan Ivkovic could not leave Peras out. The backcourt formed by Petrovic, Zdovc, Zeljko Obradovic – yes, as a player – 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 inferior categories) with a total 669 points.
‘King’ in Spain
During the 1991-92 season, due to the war in Yugoslavia, FIBA forced 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 Phonala he scored 37. He finished that season with 25.8 points. 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. Spain was his destination. 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 Germany EuroBasket in 1993 with a bronze medal for Croatia, thanks to his 19.1 points per game.
The smartest team was Taugres Vitoria. Coincidence or not, the same season it signed Perasovic, the team reached its first European final. In Lausanne on March 15, 1994, the Cup Champions Cup final between Union Olimpija and Taugres took place. Olimpija won, 91-81, after 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. 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 Taugres 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 by 96-89 in the quarterfinals. In the semis, the team dealt with the Real Madrid of coach by Zeljko Obradovic and Arvydas Sabonis – the same team that three months later would be Euroleague champ – by 86-79 with a perfect Perasovic: 34 points with 6 of 8 twos, 4 of 4 threes and 10 of 11 free throws plus 4 rebounds in 40 minutes. In the final, Taugres defeated CAI Zaragoza by 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, Perasovic, 17. Branislav Prelevic shined for the Greek team with 34 points and young Pedja Stojakovic confirmed his talent with 20 points, but Dean Garrett was the big disappointment as he finished scoreless. It was Perasovic’s sixth European final and his fourth title at the club level.
With Croatia he won the bronze medal in the Athens EuroBasket of 1995 (10.5 points) and took part in the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 (2.7 points) and again, the Spain EuroBasket of 1997 (12.0 points). That year, at 32 years old, he signed for 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. 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 ACB he scored 7,387 points (7th best overall) in 354 games (20.9) and surpassed the 12,000 played minutes and is the third best three-point shooter with 882 made (only after Alberto Herreros and Juan Carlos Navarro).
With Dino Radja as president in his club of origin, he started a new stint as sports director in KK Split (the new name of the former Jugoplastika) but, again, Spain would be his destination. He coached Caja San Fernando, Tau Ceramica (winning the Spanish King’s Cup in 2006) and Estudiantes. He was back to Croatia for two years to win two leagues with Cibona and take the team to the Euroleague Top 16. That allowed him to move to Turkey to be in charge of Efes Pilsen but he would soon be back to Spain to coach Valencia Basket, then Laboral Kutcha and finaly Anadolu Efes the team he is currently coaching.
As a player he was a natural born scorer. As a coach he is a winner.