Predraft Workout: Nikola Vucevic
By caseyholdahl Posted in: 2011draft
"It kept spinning and spinning," said USC's Nikola Vucevic, "and you didn't know when it was going to stop."
Vucevic, who was in Portland on June 16 to workout for the Trail Blazers a week before the NBA Draft, wasn't talking about one of those shots that circles around and around the rim before falling through the net. Nor was he wasn't speaking figuratively about the predraft process of flying to a city, working out for two hours and then boarding a plane for another city and yet another workout.
The spinning that never seemed to stop in Vucevic's memory occurred not on the court, but on the Belgrade-Bar railway in his homeland of Montenegro. It was there that the brakes failed on a train carrying a 15-year old Vucevic, teammates from his youth club team, his father Borislav and around 300 others. The train jumped the tracks, falling 50 meters down an embankment, killing 45 passengers and injuring 184, many of whom were children. Borislav, a former professional basketball player and teammate of the late Drazen Petrovic, pulled many survivors, including his son, out of the wreckage.
"He was my coach," said Vucevic of his father. "There's like one part of the season, then a month break. That amount of people usually go up in the mountains and train in the mountains to get into good shape. So on our way back the train crashed. My dad was one of the last ones to leave (the scene of the wreckage) to help people out.
"When I was 15 I didn't really realize what he did," said Vucevic. "I was under shock and all of that. After a little while I realized that he actually helped out a lot of people. It's impressive. A lot of people would just try to save their own life."
With a father like that as a role model, it's hard to imagine Nikola would have to fight the "soft" stereotype some in the United States have regarding players from Europe. But that label persists for those who cross the Atlantic to try their luck in the NBA, a reality the younger Vucevic, whose ability to survive a traumatic experience is admirable in its own rite, is well aware of.
"Since I'm from Europe, people maybe kind of think am I a soft European like they tend to say," said Vucevic. "I just try to show them I learned by coming here to play tough, play hard all the time. That's something I try to show them."
That message, gauging by Chad Buchanan's remarks regarding Vucevic performance, seems to have been received.
"Nikola is a guy who's shown steady improvement every year, which we really like," said Buchanan. "He's big, he's long. Not a great athlete, but he has a very high skill level."