MEET THE CROATIAN SENSATION BALLER
Antun Maricevic brings big talent to tiny Longmont Christian
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
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
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.