|Rasid Mahalbasic was a shining prospect for Austria during the past summer's EuroBasket 2013 Qualification Round|
By Dimitris Kontos
Austria's Rasid Mahalbasic jumped into deep water this summer and has done much more than just trying to stay afloat.
The 2.08m center first shined with the national team in the EuroBasket Qualification Round, his first international tournament outside the strict confines of the now abolished Division B.
Mahalbasic was the driving force behind Austria's three victories in Group C, leading the team in scoring (16.7 ppg) and rebounds (5.6 rpg).
"We played very well at home, in a new arena, in front of a lot of fans," he told FIBAEurope.com
"But most of our team do not have international experience, the Austrian league is not as competitive as the big and strong leagues in Europe."
"We played well against Ukraine and we came close to beating Croatia, twice.
"We are not there just yet but we're close, maybe it will take us another couple of years."
The 22-year-old then joined Asseco Prokom Gdynia in the Polish league and is experiencing his first season in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague.
"This is the highest level in Europe, for me it's like the NBA," he proclaimed.
"I enjoy every game, every second on the court.
"Right now our team [Gdynia] is losing but I'm practising with a Euroleague coach and Euroleague players so of course I gather experience and by next summer I'll be better."
Gdynia have won only one of their first seven games in the Euroleague Regular Season and are out of contention for a spot in the Top 16.
None the less, the young center proves worthy of the trust of experienced coach Kestutis Kemzura by averaging 6.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in 18 minutes of action per game.
Fans in Austria are watching his progress closely as they expect him to be the leader of the team during their EuroBasket 2015 qualification campaign.
"I don't know what people expect, but I expect it from myself to play well and help the team," Mahalbasic asserts.
"But it depends on the player and on the coach [in equal measure]. You can't be the best player on the team if you don't get to play.
"The Austrian national team has showed me confidence, they play me 30 to 35 minutes in every game, so I have to give something back.
"Last summer I was lucky, I played a lot, I had a couple of good games but also some bad games.
"All in all I was the leader of the team," he admits.
Not only Mahalbasic, but also his Austrian team-mates have taken a lot on board in the past few months.
"I think everybody took a big, big step forward and we're still young, so we're still progressing," he said.
|Mahalbasic: "You have to try it in the deep, because if you don't try you'll never know."|
"I hope, and I think, that this coming summer we'll be a strong opponent and nobody can underestimate us.
Strong enough to make the average Austrian take a bigger interest in basketball?
"Of course basketball can become more popular, we saw it this summer in al five games [at home].
"But more important [than that] is the younger generation.
"We have some good young guys right now, but they have to take a step forward.
"Playing in Austria is good up until a young age, but then you have to go into deep water.
"You have to try it in the deep, because if you don't try you'll never know."
These youngsters can definitely turn to Mahalbasic for inspiration.
He left landlocked Austria for a port city on the Baltic Sea coast and has learned to swim just fine.