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The Dario Diaries Vol. 1: Saric’s Day is Finally Here

The wait for Dario Saric is over.

NBA: Preseason-Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

My first season as a true internet-educated NBA junkie was in 2010-2011. I was reading and listening to Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe religiously. Grantland (R.I.P.) launched. LeBron James and the Flying Death Machine Heat had the sports community in a frenzy. I was 16 going on 17 and fully immersing myself in a new, great era of professional basketball.

As a fan of a directionless NBA squad, I began looking to the NBA draft and the bevy of college and international prospects as possible saviors of the 76ers franchise. With the 16th pick in the 2011 NBA draft, the Sixers were just one pick away from a ball-hawking defender named Kawhi Leonard from San Diego State. I screamed at my TV for the team to trade up for Andre Drummond as he slid down the draft board in 2012. Things changed, however, in 2013, as the Sixers hired some dude from the Rockets named Sam Hinkie to run the show.

I became enamored with Victor Oladpio and C.J. McCollum as potential backcourt partners for Jrue Holiday. Nerlens Noel seemed to be the rim protector the team had desperately needed. There was another guy in the pre-draft process (man, it wasn’t even called The Process yet then) who caught my eye: a lanky 6’10” Croatian named Dario Saric.

He reminded me a bit of Hedo Turkoglu, who I loved watching on those Chris Webber-led Kings teams of my youth and who excelled on Stan Van Gundy’s analytically-savvy Magic teams, mixed with the cocky swagger of a future playoff villain. Unfortunately, Saric ultimately withdraw his name from the 2013 draft. I thought that was it for this affection that was brewing for him, but it was only the beginning.

Process Trusters know the rest of the story. The Sixers acquired another 2014 first-round pick on Draft Night 2013, allowing draft hounds to follow even more potential #FutureSixers intently over the 2013-14 season. Saric’s stock continued to rise during that span, as he won the Adriatic League MVP, as well as that league’s Final Four MVP (clutch gene?!?) in 2014. He garnered interest from the Celtics and Lakers, who had the sixth and seventh selections in the 2014 draft, respectively, until he made the decision to sign a three-year deal with an opt out after the second year with Anadolu Efes of the Turkish Basketball League.

Those historic franchises wanted immediate contributors, pronto. They had no time to wait for the no-look passes and hectic transition offense Saric brought to the table. Hinkie thought he had all the time in the world back in 2014 (he was, unfortunately, wrong) to wait on Saric, as did a Springsteen-loving frat boy from Penn.

I loved Saric’s game and future potential given some improvement in his shot. Ever the contrarian who kept a worldly perspective, I relished in challenging the thinly-veiled xenophobic backlash against the Saric pick. He became My Guy. I woke up at the crack of dawn later that summer to watch Saric nail a three in Andres Nocioni’s grill after getting his teeth knocked out with blood streaming down his face in the World Cup, all for the Philadelphia Daily Newswho had no real interest in covering him.

I was Gay Talese and had found my Frank Siantra. I was hitching the dreams of a blogger hoping to take my career to the next level to The Croat Goat. Upon Saric’s drafting, I was writing for my own rinky-dink Sixers blog. Within a year, I had written for multiple newspapers and was now blogging for the best Sixers news source on the internet. Coincidence? I think not.

Beyond the memes, the “will he or won’t he come over” drama worthy of a subplot between Ross and Rachel on Friends, the “Is Dario Lit?” meter, the shirtless Instagram posts, the tracking of Lufthansa Flight 426, and the future Saric biographer that I was shaping myself into, the guy actually got better at basketball during his time in Turkey A lot better.

He filled into his body and became hardened after two additional seasons against grown men abroad. His three-point shooting improved each season, up to 40.7 percent (on 172 attempts) this past year. He continued his Lamar Odom-esque ball-handling and distributing abilities as a point guard in a power forward’s body. He became a versatile offensive player who could slide in perfectly next to franchise centerpiece Joel Embiid.

After some peaks and valleys to his preseason play, from shooting five for seven from the field for 14 points in the second game of the preseason to missing seven consecutive threes over his next three games, Saric leveled out a bit in the Sixers’ preseason finale. He was eight of 14 from the field, including one for three from deep, notching 19 total points and grabbing seven boards. The Sixers are hoping to get more performances like that, more nifty high-low passing between Saric and Embiid like this over the course of the season:

I intend for these Dario Diary entries to be a recurring feature on a somewhat weekly schedule this season. I’ll try to mix in some legitimate statistical analysis (check out my preview of Saric’s rookie season) or video breakdowns along with my patented, intentionally over-the-top adoration for Saric, and maybe even some actual (totally real and definitely not made up) diary entries akin to “Sam Hinkie and a Semester Abroad.” I’m happy to have you all along for Saric’s journey. It’s lit, everyone. Oh, is it ever.