Few players are more identified with a foreign club and its city than Valencia Basket center Bojan Dubljevic. In his sixth season with the club, Dubljevic has grown as a player along with the club. Together they have won titles and Dubljevic has bonded with everyone at the club, from fans to staff members to friends in the city. Valencia Basket and the city of Valencia have become the place he calls home.
Valencia was the first place Dubljevic came to play outside of his native Montenegro. When he joined as an ambitious 20-year old, he wasn’t sure what to expect. And there were some initial struggles. “Everything was different. The people’s mentality, the culture, everything! It was really hard for me in the beginning,” Dubljevic said. However, he was made to feel at home quickly and it has remained so ever since. “Valencia accepted me as if I was one of them. I liked Valencia when I first came and now I like it even more. And I think the people in Valencia like me, too. Six years later, I am like a Valencian already and my goal is to stay here as long as possible.”
Dubljevic had the chance to play once in Valencia once before he joined the team. It was in the 2012 EuroCup Quarterfinals and Buducnost sought to defend a 4-point lead from the first leg of the home-and-away series. Valencia won 85-63, but Dubljevic posted 17 points on 7-of-7 two-point shooting to leave a good first impression on his club-to-be. “I remember that it was the first time that Buducnost had beaten a Spanish team in Podgorica. We were really motivated and I played a good game – and then we came here and Valencia destroyed us, for sure. They were the better team. Once I got here, I knew it was a great city even though I didn’t see too much; I was only here for one day. Everybody had told me that Valencia was a great city and when I got the call from the club, I was really happy.”
Dubljevic was named to the 2011-12 All-EuroCup Second Team following that breakout campaign with Buducnost. After such a strong season at such a young age, he had a lot of offers, but Dubljevic had already figured out his next destination. “I chose Valencia over all other options because everyone told me it was a great place to play basketball. One of my cousins, Jelena Dubljevic, played here before me and told me I needed to go there, and that is what I did. I also spoke with Stefan Markovic, who treated me here as if I was his younger brother. They helped me a lot in the beginning,” he remembered.
Dubljevic converses coolly in Spanish now, but it took him a while to get there. “For me, the biggest adjustment was the language. I didn’t know too much English and no Spanish at all, but I was really, really lucky that Stefan was here,” Dubljevic said of that first season. “Velimir Perasovic was our coach and he was Croatian. That helped me a lot, too, because we could speak to each other in Croatian, not in Spanish. All the players lived in the same area, which was good. It was not so hard, because Valencia is a big city, but with good friends on the team, everything was easier.”
What is it that has made Dubljevic so comfortable in Valencia? The list is long and the first thing is his love for the basketball club and the people behind it. “We show on the court that we are fighting and there are also a lot of people fighting off the court to help us. There are a lot of hard-working people at Valencia Basket and they help us play with a lot of heart, too. To me, this is Valencia Basket; we may be on TV, but the guys who work off the court are not on TV and they work really, really hard,” he said.
A close second for Dubljevic would his relationship with the fans. “We have a very special connection… I think we have one of the best fan bases and I always thank them for their support, because we really need them, when we win and when we lose,” he said. Drawing on an example, he thought back to the 2014 EuroCup Finals. “When we won the EuroCup in Kazan, our fans came to the court to take pictures and we all went back on the same flight. That was great! We won the trophy and celebrated on the plane with them. A really good moment!”
While he loves the club and the fans, what has made everything even more special is that together they have all found success. “I have already won some titles with Valencia – the EuroCup, the Spanish League and the Spanish SuperCup. When I signed, I said I came to Valencia to win titles. We won the Spanish League last season for the first time in the history of the club, and the Spanish SuperCup also for the first time. We are now playing in the EuroLeague… If we return year after year, go step by step and continue playing the EuroLeague, we can win that title one day,” Dubljevic said with his trademark ambition.
At the beginning of the 2016-17 season, Dubljevic said live on TV that Valencia would win the Spanish League title – and kept his word. Being successful in the EuroLeague may be difficult, but Dubljevic knows it is the next step. “We have already proved we are always a very competitive team in the EuroCup… The club won the EuroCup three times, made it to the finals twice more, including last season, and it is time to improve in the EuroLeague and show that we can also beat everybody,” he explained, and later stressed: “It is time for this club to play the EuroLeague, to be in the EuroLeague more years than just one. I know how much everyone in Valencia wants to see their team in the EuroLeague, and we will try to do that.”
At a certain point, Dubljevic came to realize that he had everything he was looking for in Valencia and didn’t want to leave under any circumstances. “Year by year, I love Valencia more and more. In the last two years, I thought ‘that’s it, this is the club where I want to finish my career.’ People remember that, after beating Barcelona in the semifinals last season, I climbed on a table and started to sing with the crowd. It was a song that everybody likes (Freed From Desire by GALA) and when we qualified to the finals, I took the microphone and started to sing with them! I was really proud of that – it was funny, but in moments like this, I know I am one of them, and I can see how much they love the club,” he said.
Dubljevic is very pleased that his own personal growth as a basketball player has dovetailed with Valencia Basket’s growth into a domestic and European force. “Since I came here, the club has only gotten bigger and bigger, and fans support us like never before. For us, that is very important, our sixth player on the court. It is really important to keep fans happy and earn their support, but like I said, our fans are also behind us when we lose, which is also very important,” he said. “We have a lot of players that feel that they belong here. I have been here for six years and every player that came here keeps talking about Valencia. They are professional and some people don’t stay for long, but every time we meet again, all we talk about is Valencia and the club, the city and our memories.”
Dubljevic feels a strong connection with all his teammates, past and present. “We are not just a team, we are truly a family. I stay in touch with many players who are not in Valencia anymore – Stefan Markovic, of course, John Surna, Vladimir Jankovic, my brother Serhiy Lishchuk, also,” he said before remembering about his former frontcourt teammate with a smile in his face. “Lishchuk taught me a lot. He helped me a lot and we were brothers here. This guy is incredible! He stopped playing basketball and I am not happy about that. We cannot play together again! I remember I saw him cry when he played his last game at La Fonteta.”
Dubljevic could seemingly go on forever about how much he loves his club and his adopted city. “I haven’t even talked about the city; the weather is great and the food is amazing. It is always sunny and never rains, which makes me feel even better. People here are great. It is a big city, but without a lot of traffic.”
To sum up how he feels, Dubljevic said about the club and city: “It cannot really get better than this.”