MEET THE CROA­T­IAN SEN­SA­TION BALLER

An­tun Marice­vic brings big tal­ent to tiny Long­mont Chris­tian

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Groke

Im­mi­grant An­tun Marice­vic is dom­i­nat­ing forClass 1ALong­mont Chris­tian, av­er­ag­ing 34 points and 18 re­bounds a game.

long­mont » An­tun Marice­vic is not a sheep­herder. His fam­i­ly­may own sheep in a small, sheep­herd­ing vil­lage in Croa­tia. And on oc­ca­sion he may have herded those sheep. But that does not qual­ify him as a sheep­herder. Marice­vic is a bas­ket­ball player— a hoops ap­pren­tice.

“When my mom and dad mar­ried, they had so much land. Somy grandma and grandpa, they buy sheep. They had so much land, why not?” Marice­vic said. “When you cel­e­brate some­thing, you just have food. We never make some busi­ness.”

Marice­vic’s busi­ness is bas­ket­ball. He trav­eled across con­ti­nents for his shot at a gym life — a 21st-cen­tury Amer­i­can dream to play bas­ket­ball at a high level. He­was 14 years old­when he moved away from his fam­ily to join a bas­ket­ball academy in Za­greb, Croa­tia. He­was 18when he moved to Amer­ica.

And in the seven short months that he has been cor­ralled in Colorado, play­ing for Class 1A Long­mont Chris­tian, Marice­vic has blos­somed in the Front Range prep ranks.

“If I stay in Croa­tia, I don’t know if I have chance to be bas­ket­ball player,” Marice­vic said. “This is my only choice. I need try. Why move here? It’s more op­por­tu­nity. It gives me chance to make some­thing of my life.”

Marice­vic is a 6-foot-9 next-gen Dirk Now­itzki who can shoot the 3-poin­ter and han­dle the ball like a guard, or at least hopes to. On awhim he moved to Long­mont be­cause it re­minded him of home, a vil­lage named Sred­nji Lipo­vac with a pop­u­la­tion of 302, near the Pozega road on the way to the Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina bor­der.

Now he is av­er­ag­ing 33.8 points and 18.4 re­bounds per game, dom­i­nat­ing small-school op­po­nents. Ev­ery once in a while, some kid will shred the lower classes in Colorado. But usu­ally he is the most ath­letic kid in the clas­si­fi­ca­tion, of­ten a foot­ball player stay­ing in shape dur­ing the win­ter.

But Marice­vic may be hoops le­git. He is ripped, al­ready strong enough to

han­dle a col­lege-level low­post, and he has hands like Ola­ju­won. Col­lege scouts sud­denly are flock­ing to Long­mont Chris­tian games.

“They’re start­ing to catch on. Ev­ery day, there’s more and more,” said Long­mont Chris­tian coach My­ron Huey. “I feel like I have to pro­tect him as much as pos­si­ble.”

It’s dif­fi­cult to tell how good Marice­vic is, play­ing in Colorado’s small­est clas­si­fi­ca­tion and with less than a year of Amer­i­can bas­ket­ball ex­pe­ri­ence. But at a Jan­uary tour­na­ment in An­chor­age, Alaska, Marice­vic matched up against touted sopho­more Ka­maka Hepa, a 6-8, four-star re­cruit at Bar­row(Alaska) High School. Hepa, who has of­fers from New Mex­ico and North­ern Colorado, among oth­ers, is the 10th-ranked power for­ward in the 2018 class, ac­cord­ing to Scout.com.

Marice­vic mus­cled him around, scor­ing 28 points and grab­bing 12 re­bounds while hold­ing Hepa to 12 points. Huey uses Marice­vic as a power for­ward, al­low­ing him to shoot from dis­tance and post up equally.

“He’s a stretch 4. He’s bet­ter fac­ing the bas­ket,” Huey said, tab­bing his star as a mo­bile power for­ward. “We’re run­ning him in a po­si­tion that will do him the most good later on. We could stand him un­der the bas­ket all the time and throw him the ball. But this is bet­ter for him.”

Marice­vic’s path to Colorado was un­usual. He didn’t like his op­por­tu­nity play­ing for IJT Ci­bona Za­greb, the Croa­t­ian club he joined when he was 14. He­was liv­ing in a dorm, play­ing in a bas­ket­ball fac­tory, but the play­ers ahead of himwere more ac­com­plished.

So Marice­vic moved last sum­mer to Hart­ford, Conn., to play for a club team. He played there for amonth. But he­wanted a high school that re­minded him of his home in Sred­nji Lipo­vac. So he whit­tled his op­tions to Colorado and Penn­syl­va­nia. He chose Long­mont Chris­tian be­cause it’s near Den­ver, but not in Den­ver, and it’s a Chris­tian school.

“In the middle of the sum­mer, I got a phone call from a guy I’ve still never met, from an agency,” Huey said. “They said: ‘This kid’s go­ing to come over. Do you take I-20s?’ I didn’t know what an I-20 was.”

An I-20 form is a cer­tifi­cate is­sued by the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity that grants el­i­gi­bil­ity for non­im­mi­grant stu­dents. Marice­vic worked it out­with the school. He flew to Colorado and nowl­ives with Carl Christiansen, a re­tired foot­ball coach and sub­sti­tute teacher at Long­mont Chris­tian.

“A lot of times, peo­ple will tell you this kid is 6-10 and he turns out to be 6-3,” Huey said. “But when I saw him I said: ‘Wow! I hope he can play.’ ”

Red tape wasn’t the is­sue. Marice­vic’s tough­est chal­lenge, be­yond step­ping up in cut­throat re­cruit­ing cir­cles, prob­a­bly will be col­lege en­trance ex­ams. He didn’t speak a word of English un­til seven months ago. And he still car­ries an English lan­guage­work- book with him in his gym bag.

“I just lis­ten. And if I don’t un­der­stand some words, I just ask,” Marice­vic said.

He is work­ing to­ward an ACT score thatwill make him el­i­gi­ble for col­lege. If he doesn’t get that, he may need a stop at a prep school.

Marice­vic’s tal­ent, he hopes, will some­day be NBA-wor­thy. He wants to fol­low the pro path first trav­eled by Croa­t­ian coun­try­man Drazen Petro­vic in 1989 with the Port­land Trail Blaz­ers and now oc­cu­pied by Or­lando Magic guard Mario He­zonja.

For now, though, Marice­vic will live in Amer­ica while his mom and dad and two younger sis­ters stay in Croa­tia. He talks to them ev­ery day by phone.

“This is nor­mal,” he said. “It’s a big chal­lenge for me to come. My friends, they said: ‘Why go there? You’ll be scared. You don’t know any­body.’

“But I need to try some­thing. Bas­ket­ball is my life.”

“A lot of times, peo­plewill tell you this kid is 6-10 and he turns out to be 6-3. Butwhen I saw him I said: ‘Wow! I hope he can play.’ ” Long­mont Chris­tian coach My­ron Huey, on An­tun Marice­vic

He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

An­tun Marice­vic, dunk­ing at prac­tice, sees “more op­por­tu­nity” here. “It gives me chance tomake some­thing ofmy life.”

An­tun Marice­vic not only has an im­pres­sive wing­span, the 6-foot-9 se­nior at Long­mont Chris­tian has a good grip on what it takes to get bet­ter in bas­ket­ball. He hopes to play in the NBA some­day. He­len H. Richard­son, The Den­ver Post

Jeremy Pa­passo, Long­mont Times-Call

Marice­vic dunks against Caleb Jonker of Den­ver Chris­tian dur­ing a game this month. Marice­vic, who moved to the Front Range from Croa­tia, didn’t speak any English un­til sev­en­months ago.

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