At 28 years of age, newcomer Damjan Rudez (pronounced Dom-yawn rue-Desh) is the sixth oldest Pacer on the team's 2014-15 roster, thus making him a rather unconventional rookie.
"After being abroad for so long, in Europe for 10 years, I don't feel like [a] typical rookie," said Rudez at the Indiana Pacers' media day on Monday. "But, of course, coming here for the first time, I completely realized it is something different, a new set of rules, a new atmosphere, and here, I am a rookie."
Adapting to the NBA's stage might currently be all Greek to him (as the saying goes), but competing professionally is old hat. Since 2004, the 6'8" Croatian native has been employed by five different clubs (BC Oostende, KK Union Olimpija, Cedevita Zagreb, Cibona Zagreb, and CAI Zaragoza) belonging to four various leagues (ULEB Cup, Euroleague, Eurocup, and Liga ACB) located in four separate countries (Belgium, Slovenia, Croatia, and the Spanish nationality of Aragon).
In taking a long, arduous path to the NBA, Rudez can certainly find company with fellow Pacers, Chris Copeland and Luis Scola. Employed for six seasons by TAU Ceramica of the Spanish ACB before eventually finding his way to the Houston Rockets in 2007, Scola, now a 7-year proven NBA veteran, is definitely someone Rudez can look to as a mentor.
"For sure," said Rudez about the possibility of leaning on Scola. "I have no doubt that his experience and his advice are going to be very valuable to me."
At media day, the sharpshooter even admitted to having previously joked around with the Argentinian star at the FIBA World Cup about picking a locker right next to his so he would be able to more easily pick the savvy veteran's brain.
"I've been trying to learn from Scola everyday," said the Croatian native to Pacers.com. "He is really helping me out a lot with little things and little details that I still have to get adjusted to, so it is really very valuable to me."
Transitioning to the NBA's divergent playing style and rules as well as adjusting to the Pacers' system may still require time and assistance, but getting acquainted with American culture and the NBA itself is something that comes naturally.
Going undrafted in 2008, the 200-pound forward determinedly set his sights on reaching the strongest and most competitive league in Europe (otherwise known as the Spanish ACB), all while continuing to monitor the ongoings in the NBA, "I've been following the NBA since forever, since I was a kid," said Rudez. "...I really try to keep up on a regular basis on NBA.com or League Pass."
The Pacers' newcomer did not elaborate on whether or not he at any point and time chose to go with the pick five option on League Pass Broadband; however, if, in the past, he ever needed help narrowing down his choices, he always could have elected to seek advice from Grantland's Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons' Annual League Pass Rankings:
That is in fact true, I am a huge Grantland fan❗️http://t.co/vQmBRYZGM3 #representing #croatia #grantland— Damjan Rudez (@Damjan_Rudez) July 17, 2014
"Grantland is a really great website with a lot of interesting stuff coming up everyday, not just basketball but pop-culture, books, and movies, said Rudez to Pacers.com. "It is a really good place."
Fortunately for Damjan, the feeling is mutual.
In the piece Rudez linked on his twitter account entitled, "Lance Blows Town: The Hornets' Gamble, the Pacers' loss, and the Wide-Open Eastern Conference," Zach Lowe writes, "Rudez is a sharpshooting Croatian power forward who supposedly reads Grantland, so he's instantly my favorite player in the league."
Originally from a country with a population of approximately just 4.25 million, Rudez revealed that Croatia's culture has been greatly impacted by exterior influences, "We watched a lot of American television and sports for sure, it left a big influence on me."
Enjoying programs such as The Wire and The Sopranos, the sharpshooter is clearly no stranger to American pop-culture. Nevertheless, it is with his new team where he most wants to seamlessly transition, telling Pacers.com with regard to his first NBA training camp with the Indiana Pacers, "It is really an opportunity of a lifetime."
Through the first week of camp, Coach Vogel has utilized Damjan (or Damo as he likes to be called) predominantly at the small forward position, putting him in direct competition with C.J. Miles, Solomon Hill, and Chris Copeland (who have all in some form or fashion been predominantly utilized at that position as well). Like Copeland, Rudez's greatest asset is his shooting.
According to basketball-reference, Rudez shot 47.5% from the field and 45.4% from three last season with CAI Zaragoza. Connecting on 12 of just 24 attempts, Evan Turner was the only Pacer to shoot a better percentage (50%) from behind the arc during the 2013-14 season. As a unit, the Pacers managed to shoot just 35.7% from three-point range last season, ranking 17th in the league. In transnational Eurocup competition, Rudez's field goal percentage from long-range surged to 51.9%.
Though he has yet to be utilized in camp as such, Domo also possesses the build and skill set to play, as he refers to it, "fake four." The ability to pull defenses beyond the three-point line, provide spacing, and diversify offenses is a hot commodity in today's mostly small-ball driven NBA.
Regardless of what position he plays, the stretch shooter is just going to try to make the most out of this opportunity with the Pacers, "This is something I've worked for my whole life," said Rudez to Pacers.com. "I'm enjoying every second, being around all these great players, trying to compete with everybody everyday, trying to get better."
This may be the 28-year old's first year in the NBA, but he is no rookie when it comes to professionalism.
Growing up in a country with a huge basketball tradition (as part of the former Yugoslavia), spending a decade employed by various clubs in Europe, and competing with the Croatian national team, Rudez is fully prepared for this chance in the NBA without any fear or apprehension:
"I have enough experience now that I don't have to be frightened of anything or any change," said Damjan Rudez at media day. "...For sure, this is going to be the biggest adaptation so far and biggest transition obviously, this being the biggest stage in the world and strongest league in the world, but I feel prepared for it. And I think it is way different now than it would be if I had, for example, come when I was 18 or 20 years old."
For Rudez, preparedness and genuine appreciation for the opportunity before him have likely developed with age and experience.
"It really is an opportunity of a lifetime," said Damjan. "I'm really going to try to make the most out of it, improve myself and try to improve everyday."
With 10 years of professional basketball experience and a well-developed desire to play and stay in the NBA, being a rookie born in 1986 will likely be much more of an asset to the Pacers than it ever will be a liability.
Fun time meeting @Damjan_Rudez , the newest Pacer, in Zagreb this weekend. Indy fans will like him. Fun guy, ready to work.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) August 17, 2014