Four years ago, a skinny basketball player from Montenegro decided to take his talents to the United States.
After playing three years of high-school basketball in Europe, Nikola Vucevic traveled to the States, hoping to make his way to the NBA and enjoy the same success his parents had when they starred on the hardwood.
His dad, Borislav, played professionally for 24 years and was a member of the Yugoslavian national team while his mother, Ljiljana, played professional basketball in Bosnia.
In other words, Vucevic had natural talent. In 2007, he was voted the best young player in Montenegro.
After coming to the United States, he did not disappoint in his lone year at Stoneridge Prep, averaging 18 points and 12 rebounds and attracting the attention of several colleges.
Ultimately, of course, he chose USC.
The 2008-09 season that Vucevic arrived on campus, however, USC’s squad was already loaded with talent.
DeMar DeRozan had the campus buzzing about his potential, while Taj Gibson, Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett all held solid roles on the team.
And before his USC career even began, Vucevic was forced to miss the first eight games of the season while he confirmed his amateur status with the NCAA.
Once cleared, his minutes were sparse playing behind Gibson, Keith Wilkinson and Leonard Washington.
But that offseason, DeRozan and Gibson declared for the NBA draft, Hackett went to play basketball professionally overseas, Wilkinson graduated and Washington transferred schools.
Amid all the change, Vucevic was thrust into a starting role. He responded in a big way, becoming a consistent low-post presence on the offensive and defensive end.
Then, the university self-imposed sanctions on the basketball team midway through the season.
Despite all the turmoil, Vucevic was a source of reliability and consistency the entire year. He started all 30 games for USC, while finishing second on the team in scoring (10.7) and first in rebounding (9.4).
He was recognized for his strong play, and was named the Pac-10’s Most Improved Player last season.
Vucevic’s breakout season might have been a surprise to many who didn’t know him, but it was this type of skill that Montenegro under-20 coach Dejan Radonjic knew he had.
“He’s a great guy, an excellent talent,” Radonjic said in an interview with Chris Hein who covers FIBA basketball. “I think he will be a big star.”
Now in his third year at USC, Vucevic has gone from a relative unknown to No. 1 option.
And he a greater source of points and rebounds, leading the team in both categories.
He certainly made his case to be the Pac-10 Player of the Year, ranking third in scoring (17.5 points) and leading the conference in rebounding (10.3).
Vucevic has also registered 18 double-doubles on the season, and is a big reason why the Trojans’ record is what it is.
Because of his recent stellar play, he was named Pac-10 Player of the Week for the first time in his USC career.
The fans have taken notice, too.
With the possibility of Vucevic leaving after this year, fans and students chanted “One more year, one more year” during last week’s final home game of the season against Arizona State.
Although it’s only been three years since Vucevic became a Trojan, it’s been a sight to see him develop into the player he is today.
The skinny basketball player from Montenegro was once overshadowed by his teammates, but is now making a name for himself.
The player known as “Kid Euro” is no longer a kid anymore.
He’s growing up before our very eyes.
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