Jovanovic follows basketball and education to the States

first_imgMuch like his position implies, sophomore forward Nikola Jovanovic is always moving forward. Hailing from Belgrade, Serbia, Jovanovic came to the United States in order to pursue a career in basketball.His father played professionally in Europe for 15 years and gave Jovanovic his first exposure to the game.“My dad used to be a professional basketball player for 15 years but he never pushed me to play basketball or something like that, it came naturally to me,” Jovanovic said. “I remember I was like 10 years old, and I was watching his highlights and I took his arm and I asked him to make me practice and so he assigned me to a school basketball academy for one year and then to the Red Star Club and I stayed there for seven years.”Though his father never pushed him to play basketball, Jovanovic says his dad watches all of his games online despite a nine-hour time difference.“I always get a brief report after every game, something good and something bad,” Jovanovic said. “Usually, even if I play really well he always finds something that I need to do better, which really helps.”Jovanovic didn’t start playing forward until a growth spurt prompted his coaches to encourage him to give the position a try.“I’ve only been playing forward for the last three years because I’ve recently grown up,” Jovanovic said. “I was always behind my generation in physical strength so I was always playing two guard, three guard, sometimes point guard. When I turned 16 I was 6[-foot-]7 and coaches were starting to push me to play forward and every year I grew an inch and now I’m 6[-foot-]11 and now I’m always playing forward.”Jovanovic’s skill and growth garnered him a lot of attention and faced him with a difficult decision when he turned 18. He could either play professionally in Serbia or come to the United States and play college basketball.“My decision for college was very difficult because I was coming from Serbia and I had a bunch of offers but when I was looking at USC as a school and a basketball program in this town I couldn’t find anything better,” Jovanovic said. “USC was the obvious choice.”Jovanovic says he is glad he ended up in Los Angeles because he can see that head coach Andy Enfield and USC have already improved his play in just two seasons.“[Coach Enfield] is like my second dad,” Jovanovic said. “He improved my game systematically and individually. I got a better feeling for the game. I improved my shooting dramatically and I think my game overall got better. Especially since when I came in as a freshman I got the opportunity to play right away.”Jovanovic chose USC over offers from schools including Arizona, Vanderbilt, Columbia, Gonzaga, Washington and Oregon. Though he has experienced success in the States thus far, he admits that it was never his plan to leave Serbia.“I never saw myself in the States because I was playing professionally right when I turned 18 and they offered me a six year contract,” Jovanovic said. “But when you play pro over there you’re not able to go to school so I wasn’t able to get a degree and play basketball at a high level at the same time, you have to pick one of the two. I figured in the United States everything is balanced so you can do both at the same time.”Despite the long distance and cultural differences that separate Los Angeles and Serbia, Jovanovic said he had a very easy transition thanks to his teammates. He is especially close to fellow Serb, junior forward Strahinja Gavrilovic.“He is from Serbia as well and he is one year older than me and he really helped me to adapt and get a feeling for USC,” Jovanovic said. “The adjustment has been good, especially with great teammates and all the coaches.”The star forward hopes to earn a degree in business and work in banking investments and stocks should a career in the NBA not work out. Nonetheless, he is confident that he has a future in basketball.“Hopefully it takes me to the NBA, we’ll see after that,” Jovanovic said. “I think I have a bright future so hopefully that works out.”Jovanovic has enjoyed following the Clippers and the Lakers since moving to Los Angeles. Aside from his father, who is his biggest role model, he looks up to current NBA stars Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and his friend and former Trojan standout Nikola Vucevic.“I like all of those players of course, but I want to build up my own style of game,” Jovanovic said.Though Jovanovic and the Trojans have struggled this season, posting an 11-18 overall and 3-14 conference record, he is excited about the promise his team has shown.“We’re the youngest team in the top five power conferences and we are mainly a freshman and sophomore squad,” Jovanovic said. “We’re so young and talented but we have a lot of potential. This year has been frustrating because maybe on paper we have better players but we lose close games because we are not able to score in the last five minutes and we have a lack of experience in our team but it’s going to turn around.”Jovanovic and the Trojans travel to Westwood on Wednesday to take on rivals UCLA in their last game of the season.last_img

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