'Drago' Berlic offering Star the steel needed in their pursuit of silverware
Belfast Star's fans could have been forgiven for thinking that Ivan Drago, the bitter rival of Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV, had joined the club such has been the intensity and steel that Mark Berlic has brought with him.
The rugged Slovenian would certainly not be out of place in Creed II as he has added some granite to Star's defence as they have gone on a fine winning streak which has culminated in a place in the National Cup semi-finals and top spot in the All-Ireland Superleague.
Coach Adrian Fulton has been delighted with the work ethic of the Slovenian, who admits that at first he didn't want to come to Belfast - but now has no doubts he made the right choice.
"When my manager said to me about the offer to come to Northern Ireland, I said 'no' because I didn't think they played basketball and then when I came I realised the standard was much higher than I expected and I love it at Star," said 24-year-old Berlic.
"I'm loving my time here, I love the challenge of every game bringing something new and there is a great team spirit at Star. We have been improving a lot and I can see that the Irish players have improved a lot since the start of the season.
"We have great confidence in what we can do and I can feel the passion of the supporters and the players for the club. It's because we have this confidence and the belief that we can win even when we are struggling that I believe we can win a trophy.
"We could even win the league and the Cup, it's a real possibility because of the way we are playing at the moment."
Berlic, who only started playing the sport at 15 in his home city of Ljubljana, says it has come as no surprise to him as to how his fellow professionals, American Mike Davis and Spaniard Sergio Vidal, have performed so well to this midway point of the season.
"Coming from the States I expected Mike to be the way he is," he said. "He's a very good player and so is Sergio - we have worked well together and I think we are bringing something to the Irish players who are learning from us. There is a lot of potential in this team and I think we will get even better."
Star return to league action this Saturday night (6.30pm) when they entertain Maree and while some would view it as a nailed on three points, coach Fulton dismisses any such complacency.
"We played Maree in a pre-season tournament and they gave us a lot of problems. Paul Freeman, who is so effective for them, didn't even play that day so we are under no illusions about the task we face," said Fulton.