Jump to content
IAC Board

News: Vukovic scores 4,810 miles away


Recommended Posts


Vukovic scores 4,810 miles away

By Shawn Yonker

Sports Editor

CRISFIELD -- More than 4,810 miles separate Crisfield center Vladimir Vukovic from his home country of Serbia and the club team he grew up playing for.

But after being in the United States for a relatively short period of time, Vukovic has already improved his English, his conditioning and his basketball skills to a point where that expanse may feel a little smaller.

Averaging 12.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks for the Crabbers (5-6), Vukovic has been a force in the Bayside this season, in a year when height is much more prevalent than others.

"I always wanted to come here to play ball," Vukovic said. "I was interested to learn more English and see the difference between the U.S. and Serbia and to make new friends. I think that was a good idea to come here."

But along the way it has been a two-way street. Between what his presence has meant to the team, his classmates and particularly freshman guard Greg Bozman Jr., whose family he lives with, the Serbian may just end up leaving as large an impression on the small Shore town as it has left on him.

"Vlada has been a real positive piece in the school here not just as a player, but as a student as well," Crabbers coach Phil Rayfield said. "He has been able to share his culture and grow up with some of the other kids. It has been a treat having him here."

Vukovic's path to Crisfield was actually paved a few years ago with some ribbing between Rayfield and a Russian player on his son Amrit's Davis & Elkins College basketball team.

Phil Rayfield helps out with basketball camp at the Division III school in Elkins, W. Va., every summer and he began asking his son's sizable foreign players if they had a little brother or friend who would like to come to high school and play basketball.

"It was a big joke every year," Rayfield said.

This past summer when junior center Milos Micic, a native of Serbia, first told him he had a cousin who wanted to come to the U.S. to play basketball, the veteran coach was of course skeptical.

But it has turned out to have plenty of substance.

"I thought it was just another joke," Rayfield said. "He said 'No I really have a cousin who wants to come to the States.' I said, 'How tall is he?' When he said 6-foot-7, I said 'I think we can make that work.'"

So when the school year was about to start Rayfield and assistant coach Greg Bozman Sr., hit the airport to pick up Vukovic. Spotting him coming through immigration wasn't a problem. The first thing he did was apologize for his English.

"I asked him did he understand triple threat position and box out," Rayfield said. "He said yes and I told him he'd be just fine."

But he has been more than just fine earning A's and B's in the classroom while reading and writing English at a high level. It was only the conversational English that was lacking when he arrived and that has improved dramatically.

Vukovic grew up about 30 minutes from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, with his parents and younger sister. He played basketball in the Serbian club system for the past eight years and is used to playing with players older than himself. So being on a team of player his own age and younger has been an adjustment.

So has living with the Bozmans and son, his teammate whom he's come very close with.

"I don't have brother," Vukovic said. "At home I have a sister, but right now I have brother."

The two have become so close that at times now they fight like brothers and their games of one-on-one are the stuff of sibling rivalry.

"It is good for him because he's a ninth grader and he's 14 and he is enjoying an experience and an opportunity I never had," Bozman Sr. said. "I think it has been great for (Vukovic) too, from watching them interact."

To Vukovic the thought of playing basketball in the U.S. has always been a dream.

When he was little he loved watching his favorite player, Vlade Divac, who starred for the Serbian national team and in the NBA, and following Serbian first division power Red Star.

But as his basketball horizons have broadened he found himself waking at 3 a.m. to watch NBA basketball on television, because of the time difference.

So when Bozman Sr. took his son, Vukovic and teammate Montez Conner to a game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Nets, his house guest was in heaven.

"There I was watching for real," Vukovic said. "I saw Vince Carter who in the Olympic Games dunked over a player who was 7-3."

While living with coach Bozman has been one thing working out with him and working on his game has been another benefit. At 6-8, the former Washington High School coach is the only one at Crisfield who can match Vukovic's size.

Though listed on the roster as a 6-foot-7 center, he points out he is actually "6-7-and-a half," and knows that working on his versatility will help him in the long run. Especially since he said he'd like to play basketball and attend college in the U.S.

"My size is right now good for center or power forward, but for next level I need to play a different position," Vukovic said. "Here 6-1 is center. I am 6-7 and I am here a very big man -- not 'Big Man' -- but tall man. In Serbia, I think players are taller, but not that strong. Here players are good athletes like the player from Snow Hill Keith (Jackson) who can dunk like the NBA or the player from Pocomoke, Sebastian (Sturgis)."

When Vukovic first arrived he was recovering from a knee injury, so conditioning was a problem. He said that the first practice he felt like everyone was running around him, but that improved. Then in the season-opener at Mardela he forgot to take his knee brace. A teammate fell on his leg and he injured it again.

"I said to myself just play," he said. "Don't worry about injuries just play. After every game, I would use ice and right now the knee is much better, but not like before the injury. I need a little rest, but now is no time for rest."

Now is not the time for rest with the stretch run of the season and then the playoffs approaching he wants to help the Crabbers. And he wants to be seen by college coaches who may give him the chance to keep playing on U.S. soil as well as continue his education.

And while Phil Rayfield will never be able to joke with his son's players about relatives who may want to come to the U.S. without a little glimmer of hope, you could also consider him surprised that it has gone this well.

"Certainly he has lived up to my expectations," Phil Rayfield said. "He has been a good plus for the team and helped us fill the hole we had very well. He works hard and he's a good kid.

"He's the kind of young man that as a father you would like to have as a son...

"Well, in my case probably a grandson."



Additional Facts

Meet Vladimir Vukovic

AGE: 17

FAMILY: Father, Goran; mother, Sanja; sister, Marina (13).




BIGGEST ADJUSTMENT TO THE U.S.: The speed of the game and speaking English.

WHAT PEOPLE WOULDN'T KNOW ABOUT HIM: "In games when I am very upset I cuss in my language," Vukovic said. "Nobody can understand me, but I feel better."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...