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Luka Dončić still a hometown hero for Slovenian school where he started

The laughter of schoolchildren at recess and basketballs ringing on the pavement echoed through the quiet streets of a residential district in Slovenia's capital, the place where Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Dončić got his start.

The phenom point guard has led his franchise to just its third appearance in the NBA Finals, where the Mavericks lost the opening game to the Boston Celtics despite 30 points from Dončić. Game 2 is Sunday night.

At 25 years old, Dončić has already racked up a raft of accolades that have him on track to be one of the greatest Europeans — or anyone else — to play the game.

But his road to a shot at an NBA championship started two decades and 5,500 miles from the bright lights of Dallas at the Miran Jarc primary school in Ljubljana, a city of around 300,000 nestled in a green valley of the Slovenian Alps.

"My first impression was that he was taller than all the guys at his age, and he really moved with the ball really great," said Rok Dezman, who coached Doncic at the school from the age of 6. "You could feel that he’s really talented."

Dončić’s precociousness on the court was evident from the first grade, Dezman said, so he immediately began competing with players several years older than him to level the playing field.

But that age disparity meant that Dončić, today standing at 6-foot-7, didn’t always have a height advantage, leading him to focus on sinking shots from a distance rather than measuring up against bigger players under the rim.

Still, Dezman said, Doncic sought ways to outsmart his age and size disadvantage.

"He took it as a challenge every time that he dealt with older guys," Dezman said. "He was trying to find a way to finish also in the paint. The size didn’t matter to him."