|Take a trip around the world with the "Duke"|
Q & A with Ivica Dukan
By Liam O'Mahony
AS THE PRESENCE OF EUROPEAN PLAYERS in the NBA has increased in recent years, the Bulls have stayed abreast of international basketball developments through the relentless work of Ivica Dukan, who scouts international leagues, follows the progress of foreign draft selections and Americans playing abroad, and reports on up-and-coming professional prospects.
In the scouting world, Dukan, the Supervisor of European Scouting for the Bulls, is commonly known as the "Duke." The Bulls' Duke of Global Scouting first became affiliated with the team in 1991 when he served as a part-time scout for Vice President of Basketball Operations Jerry Krause. In August, 1992, Dukan became a professional scout when he was named Supervisor of European Scouting.
Since scouting is a year-round occupation that comes with a rigorous traveling schedule, Dukan, who enjoyed a 14-year career as a professional basketball player in Croatia, France, Switzerland and England, divides his time between Europe, the NBA and U.S. colleges. Knowing the geography, culture and language of several European nations has greatly benefited Dukan, who speaks four languages, in his position as the Bulls' European liaison.
Question: When were you first exposed to the game of basketball?
Ivica Dukan: Back in 1971, I first started playing basketball when I was 16 years old. There was a world championship in the former Yugoslavia. At the time I was very involved in karate, and I was a strong prospect in karate. However, I realized how much I loved the game of basketball. I was very athletic and strong so I decided to play and I was pretty good.
Q: Did you play on your national team?
Dukan: Yes, I played 55 games on my national team in Croatia and I played 14 years in European professional leagues.
Q: What position did you play?
Dukan: Actually, I was 1-2-3-4 (point guard, shooting guard, small forward and power forward). I played all positions, especially defensively. I was a pretty good defender and I was a consistent three-point shooter. I had a really good range and I enjoyed rebounding and playing defense. At that time in Yugoslavia, I could jump through the roof. I was really able to do a lot of things as an athlete.
Q: Did you play with Toni Kukoc in Croatia?
Dukan: We played one year together. In my last year in Split, Croatia I was the captain of the team and Toni had just started to play in my position. I knew him three years before he started to play for the first team. He was a young kid and I remember how skinny he was.
Q: How did you first become affiliated with the Bulls organization?
Dukan: I was working as a part-time scout with the Bulls in 1991, and in 1991-92 I became a professional scout. I met Jerry Krause at the European Championships where he was scouting. We talked about basketball and other things, and at that time I didn't even realize that general managers such as Jerry were looking for European scouts. So, that is how I started, and then a year-and-a-half later Jerry asked me if I wanted to be a professional. It was a big step for myself because after playing basketball I was pretty much set in my life and my private business was doing well. But then I heard from the Bulls and it was a great offer and challenge because basketball is my life. All those connections I had made playing all those years helped me down the road.
Q: How did you help Toni Kukoc adapt to life in the United States when he joined the Bulls in 1993?
Dukan: Well, I was here a year before Toni, so I was pretty much adapted to American life. If I could say that after one year, I'm not adapted yet, even now. One year is a huge difference when you come over for the first time. In that year I was able to scout a lot of U.S. college games and NBA games. That helped me, and I had traveled with team and I had learned a lot in that year. So when Toni came over, I was able to really help him a lot and make his adjustment easier. We talk a lot about basketball and his game. I know what we are looking for from him, so I try to transfer that to him and help him execute better and to do what Coach Jackson wants from him. Toni is a pretty smart guy and he knows what he is supposed to do, but it is good to have somebody from your country that you can share problems. A scout's job is to make relationships with the players so you can talk and help them out.
Q: During the season, what is your normal routine for traveling and scouting?
Dukan: I usually go to Europe two or three times, depending on what we are looking for. There are always young players and it is much better to see them when they are younger so that each year you can see how they have progressed. As a scout, it is always good for me to see them early. Also, there are a lot of American players who are overseas playing, and my job is to go over there and see how much they have improved and see if we should still follow them. When I am here in the United States, I am scouting college basketball and CBA games. I am not only European scout, but I am an international scout and everywhere in the world there is some talent I have to go and see.
Q: What is your offseason schedule like?
Dukan: I don't really have an offseason because during the summer there are a lot of tournaments and championships all over Europe. I get a chance to spend some time at home in Croatia because there are a lot of tournaments there. I have to work really hard during the summer. As a scout, you are always scouting; that's your profession. It never ends. You always go somewhere, watching games and asking about players and writing notes for later on.
Q: Are there any drawbacks to all the traveling in your schedule?
Dukan: It can be very hard. Right now I am doing my schedule for Europe. It's hard because in the United States if you miss a flight you can make another one. In Europe, if you miss the flight, you miss the game. Also, in Europe you have to drive a lot since there is not much flying and you must know where you are going. Driving over there and driving here is a huge difference. It is not as easy, but I'm a European guy and I am a hard worker and love the job that I am doing. It is hard when you have the family and kids and you spend a lot of time away from home. That's the job. I have a six-year-old son who is missing me a lot. He's a basketball guy. He is very athletic and he plays soccer, tennis and other sports.
Q: Based on your vast international experience around basketball and the Bulls performance at the McDonald's Championship, do you feel that the NBA remains superior to the European competition?
Dukan: In terms of the teams, there is a huge difference between the NBA and Europe. It doesn't matter which team the NBA sends to Europe. The last few years, a lot of European have come to play in the NBA. Just two years ago, there were five first-round picks from Europe, so that is amazing. Talent-wise, Europe is getting closer and closer. There will be more and more younger players who will play in the NBA. But team-wise, Europe is still far away. You could see that PSG Racing and Olympiakos were very good when we played them in the McDonald's Championship.
Q: Do you anticipate a further influx of European players into the NBA or has the league seen a peak in the arrival of foreign players?
Dukan: I think there will still be more players coming over from Europe. If you are looking for individual talent like Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc or Arvydas Sabonis, you may have to wait a while. It's like in the United States, there are not many Michael Jordans or Magic Johnsons. There is talent and they are coming. The problem right now is that the former Russia and Yugoslavia are split up into different countries. Those two countries, when they were Yugoslavia and Russia, were the best in the world. Now, those countries have no competitive leagues, so those players are missing those leagues. They were great leagues, but now it has slowed down. The competition is not the same and it will take some time to get it where it used to be. There are a lot of very talented young players, but they are lacking in quality competition which would make them even better.
Q: What part did you play in the scouting and drafting of Dragan Tarlac and Roberto Duenas?
Dukan:That's my job. I was probably the first one who saw them and mentioned them to our staff. Dragan Tarlac was here for a pre-draft camp, so the scouts and coaches had a chance to see him and they all liked him. I saw them early, but there are not many secrets in Europe. What matters is how good you are as a scout and how good your notes are and how much you can judge players better than the next scout. Also you have to know that you are picking really low picks, so you are taking the best of what is still available. I think we have done a pretty good job in selecting Dragan and Roberto Duenas. We didn't take them as players, but we took them as projects. Dragan played well in the McDonald's Championship and is close to becoming an NBA player. Roberto is younger and has only been playing a few years, but he is making huge progress. If you remember, Toni was a second-round pick. That's why you have to work hard and travel a lot. You have to know people and the mentality in Europe, which helps you as a scout.
Q: Do you always work alone as a scout?
Dukan: I travel by myself. Sometimes if you really like somebody you may travel with them or sometimes I scout with Jerry Krause, Jim Stack and Clarence Gaines, Jr. Mostly, I am working by myself and using my contacts from all over. I used to play with most of the coaches in Europe, so I have a lot of contacts. They send me tapes and information that helps me in work. I was born there and played there a long time, and now this is my seventh year with the Bulls. When you live here, you know what it takes to make it and you go out there and you're scouting people whose mentality you know. This helps you be a pretty good scout.
Q: Do you have ambitions of being a coach with a professional basketball team?
Dukan: I never really thought about it. I had some opportunities to coach in Europe. Right now I'm enjoying scouting and I'm not thinking anything about coaching.
Q: Are you comfortable working in the United States and in Europe?
Dukan: Yes, I am comfortable about it. I have no problems working here and over there, but down the road the problem could involve my family. My boy is pretty much an American boy now. He was six months old when he got here. It would be hard for me to leave here. Also for my wife and I, we have a lot of friends and people that we love are over there. It is kind of difficult. As a father, you are trying to do what is best for your children, so that is what are going to do.
Q: What has been your most memorable moment since you joined the Bulls staff?
Dukan: It is always when you win a championship. I remember the first time I came to Chicago when I saw my first game at the old Chicago Stadium, that for me was something special and it was a great feeling. The first championship ring made me cry. Those are special moments.
Q: What kind of advice do you provide to premier European players who may be potential NBA players?
Dukan: You have to be careful as a scout when you are talking to players in Europe because if the media sees you talking to a kid they will already make him into a player. That is what hurts kids. In Croatia, I have a lot of influence on the young players because they knew me as a player and now I'm working with the Bulls. I am involved in Croatian basketball, helping coaches and young kids, but that is different because that is my country. But somewhere else you have to be very careful. Mostly the kids want to talk to me because they know me. I am quiet and do my job, but the kids will ask me for advice about basketball. They want to know what it takes to make it and what are the differences between the NBA, college and European basketball. Those types of questions I can answer really well. I love that because that's all about my job.
Q: When people find out that your are a scout for the Bulls, how are you received?
Dukan: You would be really impressed how many people love the Bulls around the world. It's a great feeling to have people from different countries want to talk about the Bulls. There are scouts everywhere, but there is a difference between being a scout for the Chicago Bulls and being a scout for other teams. Right now is a nice time and I hope we are going to enjoy this success for a long time.
Q: Do you ever find time to play basketball anymore?
Dukan: What I'm doing now is running a lot and swimming. When you travel you need to be in good shape. I don't really have time to play basketball. To play, you need a bunch of guys, so for me it's hard to find time to play competitively. I run a lot on the road and try to stay in good shape.