USC's Vucevic Born to Ball

by Ryan Reiswig

When a prospective racehorse owner is looking for a horse to buy, chances are they're going to put a lot of time and research into which horse they choose. Most of that time will be spent looking into that specific horse's pedigree, its bloodline.

In the case of USC's junior forward Nikola Vucevic, he is not a horse, but the smart money was on him to make it big in basketball. The reason why? His bloodline.

Vucevic's father Borislav played 24 years professionally and coached professionally in Belgium. His mother Ljiljana also played professionally in Bosnia, and his uncle Savo also was also a player and a coach. Just because he was raised around basketball from infancy, however, doesn't mean basketball was his first love.

"When I was like ten years old, I liked soccer better," says Vucevic, a native of Switzerland. "All my friends and everybody in school was playing soccer and talking about soccer, so I preferred soccer. After I started playing basketball, I started liking basketball better."

There's bound to be some pressure being the son of someone so successful at a sport, and people may expect Nikola to be one of the best because his father played at such a high level for so long, but he has another way of looking at it.

"I wouldn't say it was pressure, I wanted to be better than my dad," says Vucevic. "I wanted to be better than him because I know that'd make him happy because that's like his dream, for me to be better than him one day. It's more of a challenge to me."

Vucevic spent the first three years of his high school career playing in Europe before coach Babacar Sy, a native of France, saw Vucevic play in a tournament and asked him if he'd like to come play high school basketball in the United States. Sy was the head coach at Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, Calif., and Vucevic saw this as a great opportunity.

"I was in Europe and when you turn 18 you go pro," explains Vucevic. "I didn't want to go pro right away. I felt like college was the best thing I could do, get an education and improve more and get a chance to play."

So Vucevic, by himself, took the long flight across the globe and landed in Southern California to finish his last year of high school at Stoneridge Prep to play for Sy. While the move was successful in the end, the adjustment of moving thousands of miles away to another country and living on his own was very tough initially.

"It was a huge adjustment for me," says Vucevic, who is averaging nearly 17 points and 10 rebounds this season. "I was never by myself; I was always with my parents and my sister. I had to come here and be by myself and do everything on my own. The first couple months were hard for me. I had to do everything by myself like little things like doing laundry, paying my phone bill, making my own food sometimes."

On top of doing chores he had never done and having financial responsibilities he wasn't accustomed to having, Vucevic missed the people closest to him. This caused him to second guess his decision at times.

"It was really hard for me at first, I wanted to go back home a couple times," says Vucevic, the winner of USC's Harold Jones award as the team's most improved player last year. "I was homesick a lot; I missed my friends and my family and everybody I grew up with."

As special a story as Vucevic's is, he isn't the first to have blazed the trail from Europe to America to play basketball. Many current and former NBA players followed similar paths, including one who Vucevic has relied on for playing tips and advice.

"I know Sasha Pavlovic that plays for New Orleans," says Vucevic, a member of the Montenegro National Team last year. "He's from my town in Montenegro so I know him from there. I talk to him sometimes and he gave me some advice on how it is in America, what should be my adjustments, so he helped me."

While Vucevic experienced personal and living difficulties in his adjustment to America, it never showed on the basketball court. He finished his senior year at Stonebridge Prep averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds per game. His college options were plentiful, as Hawaii, Nevada-Reno and USC were eager to bring him to their campus.

"I just thought that USC was the best place for me," says Vucevic. "I liked coach Floyd because he recruited me. I liked SC because it's in LA and it was becoming a really good program."

USC couldn't be happier in landing Vucevic. In just his second college season last year, he averaged a double-double and is knocking on that same door this season. All of this success has Vucevic thinking big.

"My goal is to play in the NBA one day," says Vucevic. "I think that's everyone's goal in playing basketball and that's what I want to do. Hopefully I can get there one day."

If his bloodlines have anything to say about it, he'll be seeing his buddy Sasha on the hardwood before he knows it.

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