At the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, two of the most famous athletes from one European country got together – a long ways from home.
Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic visited a Kings practice where he met fellow Slovenian star athlete / Stanley Cup champion Anze Kopitar of the Kings. Slovenia is a small (two million people) yet beautiful country location in Southeast Europe, so it was an enthusiastic get-together for the two-time NHL All-Star in Kopitar and for Dragic, who currently leads the Suns in points (14.2 points entering their game Wednesday night against the Lakers) and assists (6.4).
Dragic took time then to answer the following questions from LAKings.com:
Q: How popular is Anze Kopitar in your native Slovenia?
A: He’s the best hockey player we have right now. He’s really special. A lot of people expect him to play good hockey and he certainly does that. He means a lot back home as we have a really small country and everybody knows him and that’s why I came to practice when I was in LA because it’s good to talk to him about Slovenia and those things.
Q: I know soccer is big as well in your home but how does the popularity of hockey and basketball differ in your homeland?
A: Well maybe in the last three years soccer has been number one because we qualified for the World Cup and then I would put basketball and hockey as the same. You know we have a really good national hockey team and every second year we make Division and they play really well and basketball too. I would say those three sports are the biggest -- soccer, hockey and basketball.
Q: Do you think fans are more in tune back home with the NBA or with the NHL?
A: Oh, I don’t know about that, that’s a really tough question. But we probably have a lot of hockey fans that watch the NHL a lot especially because of Anze Kopitar. And the NBA too, the NBA might be different because we have a lot of NBA players from Slovenia. We have like five or six players in the NBA and with the NHL and hockey it’s only one guy, now two so maybe it’s different. I still think a lot of people watch the NHL though.
Q: How are you at hockey?
A: When I was young I skated a bit, and I played hockey out on the pond with my friends. But I never played hockey for real, I’m not a great hockey player. But still it’s a really fun sport to play, and sometimes when I have the opportunity to I’m playing on the lake with my friends.
Q: Anze transitioned very easily to North America. How was your transition to North America?
A: For me it was a little bit hard. Especially in Europe -- and maybe hockey is the same -- but it’s a different style of basketball in Europe than in the NBA. In the NBA a lot of the players are stronger, the basketball is faster and it’s different style of the game on the whole. Especially the first year I didn’t play a lot and then I met with the coach and got an opportunity to play and at first it was a really hard transition to a new culture, new club, new people. But I’m really satisfied with where I am now.
Q: Finally for those who don’t know anything about your country, how do you describe Slovenia?
A: I would say that it’s a small country, two million people, but it’s really green. We have a lot of woods, lakes, seasides and mountains. You can see everything in our country. They’re really nice people and we have really good food. That’s a pretty good combination to enjoy during a holiday when going to visit Slovenia.