Slovenian superstar Luka Doncic said playing at the Basketball World Cup came “from the heart” after leading his country to a win over Venezuela in his tournament debut on Saturday.
Four-time NBA All-Star Doncic scored 37 points and had seven rebounds and six assists as Slovenia beat Venezuela 100-85 in its tournament opener in Okinawa in southern Japan.
The 24-year-old Doncic is appearing at the World Cup for the first time, after helping Slovenia to a fourth-place finish at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago.
He missed out on a place in the NBA playoffs with the Dallas Mavericks last season, but he said it made “no difference” to what he wants to achieve with his country.
“It’s special playing for your country, representing your country -- you are always motivated, no matter what happens in the season,” he said.
“Obviously it was disappointing we couldn’t make the playoffs but playing for your country is special.
“It’s from the heart. Representing your country is amazing.”
Doncic is one of the biggest stars appearing at the tournament, which is being held in Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia.
He gave the Okinawa crowd a taste of his talents and was helped by an assured performance by teammate Mike Tobey, who scored 21 points and went 9-for-9 from the field.
Venezuela stayed in the game thanks to a superb shooting effort, scoring nine three-pointers in the first quarter.
Doncic said Slovenia “knew it was going to be a very difficult game”.
“We played against Venezuela two years ago, and they were a very physical team,” he said.
“They can shoot the ball very well so it wasn’t an easy game.
“We had to fight until the end, and in the end, we got a win.”
Slovenia’s next game is on Monday against Georgia, who beat Cape Verde 85-60 in their tournament opener earlier on Saturday.
“Very tall team, very talented -- they have so many weapons,” Doncic said of Georgia, who are making their World Cup debut.
“It’s going to be a really tough game.”
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