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Croatian-American basketball star defies odds to make USA World Cup roster

Croatian-American basketball star defies odds to make USA World Cup roster

(Photo credit: Eric Draper/Public domain)

By Cole Kinder

Unfortunately for the Croatian basketball fan, the past six years have been difficult to say the least.

The Croatian National Team long known for being one of the world’s best teams has hit a drought in success, failing to qualify for the past two World Cups (2019 and 2023) and the most recent Olympics in 2021.

The nation that has brought us past stars like Dražen Petrović and Toni Kukoč as well as present stars like Ivica Zubac and Bojan Bogdanović now finds itself ranked 25th in the world.

Despite all the doom and gloom presented in the beginning of this article, there are still bright spots Croatians around the world can be happy about when thinking of basketball.

For one, Croatians are continuing to do well individually in the NBA and Europe. For example, Bojan Bogdanović just came off his best NBA season yet for the Detroit Pistons averaging over 20 points per game. And, Ivica Zubac had his best season ever averaging a near double-double a game with slightly over 10 points and 9.9 rebounds per game for the Los Angeles Clippers. 

Croatian-American basketball star defies odds to make USA World Cup roster

Bojan Bogdanović (Photo credit: Man Wiki/Dudek1337/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Meanwhile, in Europe, Mario Hezonja just won the EuroLeague with Real Madrid Baloncesto averaging more than 10 points per game, while Ante Tomić continued to dominate in Europe and Spain, but this year for Club Joventut Badalona, making the all EuroCup team for Europe’s second level club competition. 

These accomplishments are just some of the many Croatian basketball stars are continuing to earn around the world, making their lack of national team success one not to blame on talent.

Yet, just last week, another accomplishment Croatians around the world can celebrate happened, and this one had to do with the diaspora.

Croatians make up a key athletic community of many other countries, in particular, the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

While Croatia may not be at the 2023 Basketball World Cup, Croatians from the diaspora will be present. Most nations are yet to name their official roster, but one nation already has, the USA.

To make the National Basketball Team in the US is probably one of life’s most impossible achievements.

Croatian-American basketball star defies odds to make USA World Cup roster

Kobe Bryant in action for USA at the Olympics in 2012 (Photo credit: Robbie Dale/CC BY-SA 2.0)

These are the best of the best and in the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia this summer, the USA will feature fellow Croatian-American, Cameron Johnson.

Cameron Johnson was sort of a surprise inclusion into the roster, but following a successful 2022-2023 season for the Brooklyn Nets, it makes sense why Head Coach Steve Kerr wants the former Pitt Panther and North Carolina Tar Heel on the team. 

Croatian-American basketball star defies odds to make USA World Cup roster

Cameron Johnson while playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels at their rivals, the Duke Blue Devils (Photo credit: Hayden Schiff/CC BY 2.0)

Cameron Johnson had good regular season numbers averaging slightly more than 15 points per game for the Suns and Nets, and in the playoffs, Cameron Johnson improved that number to more than 18 points per game, displaying his elite level to score when games matter most. 

In addition, Cameron Johnson was able to put up these numbers shooting over 50% for field goals and over 42% from the three point line, displaying efficiency needed to earn playing time on a team full of stars like Team USA. Every season has seen Cameron Johnson get better, and with the World Cup call up, the Croatian-American is likely to get even closer to that All-star mark of 20 points per game or more.

While Cameron Johnson is a full-blooded American, one of his grandparents on his mother’s side is full-blooded Croatian, hailing from Croatia

This became widely known when Cameron Johnson was playing for the Phoenix Suns as one of his teammates was Croatian Dario Šarić. So, naturally, at the end of the 2020-2021 season, there were rumors that Cameron Johnson might suit up for the Croatian National Team with his Suns’ teammate instead.

Sadly for Croatians in Croatia, this did not come to fruition, but the Croatian-Americans will surely be happy it did not later this year in August and September.

As for other nations, there is a very good chance we will see more Croatians of the diaspora appear on their national teams for the World Cup. 

Hopefully Croatia will be able to celebrate their own national team once again in the near future as they prepare for the 2025 EuroBasket Pre-Qualifiers Second Round this July and August in Group G with Luxembourg and Ireland, before arriving mid-August in the 2024 Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2 for Europe in Istanbul, Turkey.

Either way, from August 25th-September 10th, Croatians will be able to cheer on Cameron Johnson as he represents his other red, white, and blue nation.

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