PODCAST: 1-on-1 with Damjan Rudež on deciding to retire, playing for the Pacers

Rudež reflects back on his experience with the Pacers, saying "The Indiana season remains the highlight of my career.”

Damjan Rudež started playing professional basketball when he was 16. That’s typical for players overseas and it all began at home in Croatia. He later spent three seasons in the NBA and now at 35, has decided to be done.

Rudez had been thinking about it for a while, considered making an announcement several months ago and finally pulled the trigger last week. After nearly 20 years as a pro, he was retiring from basketball.

“I kind of reached that decision pretty easy,” he told me on the Fieldhouse Files Podcast. “It’s never really easy to announce it because once it’s out there, it’s done and there’s no going back on it. But I really feel comfortable and happy with the decision I made. Usually you have to follow your hunch, instincts and that inside feeling — and that’s what I did there.

“I was close to announcing it a couple of times, but then I was like maybe I’ll just give it a couple more weeks, see if any interesting offers come out that maybe motivate me or give me another perspective on the situation.

“I kept following my emotional state and my mind flow, and not at one point did I feel like I need to get back in it or I got to start practicing twice a day again. The overall body of work that you got to put in every day in order to be sharp and operating on all cylinders, the juice wasn’t there for me. That’s what made it easy.”

Larry Bird was intrigued by Rudez's shooting and signed him to an NBA deal in 2014. That Pacers season didn't go as planned after Paul George suffered a compound leg fracture during a USA Basketball scrimmage and missed all but the final six games. They lost the last game of the season and didn’t make the playoffs. The franchise still hasn’t advanced in the postseason since the 2013-14 season.

The absence of George, however, resulted in a larger opportunity for Rudez. It took him a few months to get comfortable with the 3-point line, but then he shot 40.6 percent from range and averaged 4.8 points in just 15.4 minutes per game. The team needed shooting — and still does.

Bird, though, then dealt Rudez in the offseason to the Timberwolves for Chase Budinger. It didn’t pan out and Budinger got into beach volleyball, where he excelled. That decision still doesn’t make sense and it was admittedly a tough situation for Rudez. He liked it in Indy, felt comfortable in Indy and wanted to continue.

Yet he was just a member of the team for 366 days.

“Overall, my experience in Indy was a dream come true,” he said. “I really felt terrible and crushed after getting traded because I felt like I found my place in Indy and I was really getting along with everyone over there and the culture really suited me. I felt like it’s my type of place and they really appreciated what I’m doing.

“That was something that was hard for me and it took me a while to process it. But ultimately, I look at my season with the Pacers in terms of smile because of it happened type of situation, not cry because it’s over. And it took me a while to start looking at it that way, but looking back it was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“The Indiana season remains the highlight of my career.”

As for what’s next, Rudez, who has a young daughter and hopes to have more kids, has a few ideas in mind.

“I enrolled in the coaching academy and hoping to get my degree in coaching and my license so that’s definitely one direction I’m looking in,” he said. “I also had the good fortune of being invited to Croatian national television to help broadcast some of the games when he had the NBA on our national television. Broadcasting was very fun for me and something that I would like to also do in the future.”

Though he was in Indy for just one season, he heard from more than a dozen people — from executives, trainers, teammates and more — soon after making his decision public on social media.

“The whole Pacers family,” he said, smiling. “I can’t even tell you the amount of (messages) that I was getting from Pacers fans from China, from Brazil, from all around the world really. I felt really overwhelmed with messages and blessed. A lot of former teammates reached out like C.J. Watson, one of the favorite guys that I used to play with. My guy from the second unit that would feed me all the passes for my 3-pointers.”

Here’s a sample just from Twitter.

Listen to the Fieldhouse Files podcast for my full conversation with Damo. It’s his only local interview and the first in English.

Among the items discussed on this episode:

  • Why now and the factors that went into his decision.

  • How he plans to fill the time with family, coaching and broadcasting.

  • Other teammates deciding to retire recently, like Ian Mahinmi, and hearing from his Pacers family.

  • Feeling crushed when he was traded to Minnesota, and learning about the business of basketball.

  • His experiences with the Timberwolves and the Magic, reuniting with Frank Vogel in Orlando for a season.

  • The value of playing professionally as a teenager and being pushed by veterans.

  • The conditions in Croatia amid the ongoing pandemic.

This episode is sponsored by Only Indy Tickets.

For great Pacers tickets, visit OnlyIndyTickets.com. They have great tickets for terrific prices for every game on the schedule. From hard-to-find seats for hot match-ups to bargain tickets that are cheaper than the box office. Only Indy Tickets is your first stop for Pacers tickets and anything else going on in Indianapolis.

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Lastly, enjoy this from 2014 — part of his rookie duties.