High hopes: Aleks Maric at Australian Boomers training. Photo: Wayne Taylor
ALREADY with the responsibility of being Australia's key big man in London next month, Aleks Maric has even more reason to help the Boomers in their quest to claim their first Olympic medal.
The Sydney-born Maric, who has played the past five years in Europe, including the past two with prominent Greek club Panathinaikos, has revealed he was recently interviewed by four NBA clubs.
He worked out for the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors and spoke with Houston, having been unable to take to the court in front of Rockets coach Kevin McHale because of scheduling issues.
Maric, 27, who only took up the sport at 16, said the workouts had gone ''very well'' as he attempts to join fellow Australians Andrew Bogut and Patty Mills in the world's premier basketball competition. He knows a strong Olympic campaign will strengthen his hopes.
''I don't want to hold my breath, but I did my best,'' Maric said after Boomers training yesterday. ''A good Olympics will boost that, but I just want to play good for the team, for my country, and whatever happens after that, happens.''
Boomers coach Brett Brown, also a senior assistant with the San Antonio Spurs, said Maric, at 211 centimetres and 125 kilograms, had the size and strength to compete in the NBA. But he needed to improve poor career 63 per cent shooting from the free-throw line.
''I think his game is fine the way it is. I think he needs to become a more reliable free-throw shooter but, as far as a physical presence, he has that. He is a great person, a great teammate,'' he said.
Maric's hopes of impressing have been restricted with Panathinaikos in the past two seasons.
He has averaged only seven minutes and fewer than four points per game in each season, having been forced to sit amid suggestions his coach had been under pressure to play local talent.
Needless to say, it was a frustrating time, particularly as he had been named on the All-Euroleague first team in 2010 when he averaged 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds over 25 minutes a game while playing with former club Partizan Belgrade. He also helped Partizan claim the Serbian national cup and the Adriatic Championship.
''It's frustrating at times but you just have to respect the coach's decision. Obviously, when I do get a chance, I show what I can do,'' Maric said. ''As a player, all you can do is keep working hard and when the coach gives you an opportunity, you take full advantage of it.''
Nonetheless, it's not a season he will forget in a hurry. Maric posted a series of photos on Twitter when the team bus was pelted with rocks by fans of rival club Olympiakos during the championship series and two teammates were injured and hospitalised.
While such passion, or stupidity, is rare in Australia, Maric said there were often ''incidents'' in Greece.
''The kind of rivalry you have between the clubs, you expect that. It's nothing new. It's unfortunate but it's true,'' he said.
As Maric has Serbian citizenship, some time ago that country had been keen to welcome him into the fold but that move was disallowed by FIBA, the sport's governing body, as he had represented Australia at junior levels.
''They tried to get me to play for them, but I was pushing for the Australian side. I was born here, raised here, I am happy where I am. I don't want to go anywhere,'' he said.
The Boomers are more than happy about that, particularly as Maric will be the man in the middle in the absence of the injured Bogut.
''There is a physical presence that Al brings to the table. He is a veteran, he is a man, he is experienced, he has played against all these guys at high levels over the past few years,'' Brown said.
''He is extremely important and, at this stage, he is our starting centre.''
That importance will be shown in the three-match series against Greece, ranked fourth in the world, beginning on Sunday.
The Olympic squads for the Boomers and Opals will be unveiled tomorrow.