Vuce­vic will never for­get his USC ex­pe­ri­ence

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS THURSDAY - By Roy Parry

LOS AN­GE­LES — The Mag­i­cat-Lak­ers game was not com­pleted in time for this edi­tion. Read the late game story in our e-edi­tion at Or­lan­doSen­tinel.com/late or on our web­site.

Walk­ing into the prac­tice court at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Galen Cen­ter, a quick glance around re­veals Nikola Vuce­vic’s pres­ence.

Posted high above the court is a pic­ture of Vuce­vic from his play­ing days at USC, hang­ing along­side other for­mer USC basketball greats like De­Mar DeRozan, Taj Gib­son, O.J. Mayo, Nick Young, Sam Clancy and Harold Miner.

It’s hard to miss.

So is Vuce­vic’s love and ad­mi­ra­tion for his alma mater.

For the vet­eran Or­lando Magic cen­ter, USC rep­re­sents a place of per­sonal and ath­letic growth full of mem­o­ries.

“It’s al­ways spe­cial to go back,” he said Mon­day in Sacra­mento. “I spent three great years there. SC kind of helped me in many ways be­come the per­son I am to­day. It helped me ma­ture a lot. I met a lot of great peo­ple there, peo­ple I still stay in touch with.”

Vuce­vic and the Magic were in Los An­ge­les to take on the Lak­ers Wed­nes­day night at Sta­ples Cen­ter. It was the first game of a backto-back set for the Magic, who will face the Clip­pers on Thurs­day. It is Or­lando’s first back-to-back set in Los An­ge­les since Nov. 24 and 25, 1990.

To get to USC, Vuce­vic av­er­aged 18.0 points and 12.0 re­bounds as a se­nior at Stoneridge Prep in nearby Simi Val­ley. He said his time there “was ei­ther to see if I got any of­fers or go back to Europe and turn pro.”

He got an of­fer from the Tro­jans.

“They liked me and they re­cruited me,” he said.

Vuce­vic, who was also a mem­ber of Mon­tene­gro’s U-18 team at the time, went on to start 64 games dur­ing his three sea­sons at USC. As a sopho­more, Vuce­vic earned the Pac-10’s Most Im­proved Player award and sec­ond-team all-con­fer­ence hon­ors.

As a ju­nior dur­ing the 2010-11 sea­son, he was a Pac-10 first-team pick af­ter av­er­ag­ing 19.4 points, 10.8 re­bounds and shoot­ing 42.6%

from 3-point range dur­ing con­fer­ence play. Washington State’s Klay Thomp­son and Washington’s Isa­iah Thomas also were first­team se­lec­tions.

Vuce­vic and the Tro­jans also won the Pac-10 tour­na­ment

that sea­son to earn a berth in the NCAA Tour­na­ment. USC lost one of the First Four games to VCU, which went on to reach the Fi­nal Four.

Still, USC was the last Pac-10 men’s basketball tour­na­ment cham­pion. The next year the con­fer­ence be­came the Pac-12 af­ter adding Colorado and Utah.

“I have a lot of good mem­o­ries there, es­pe­cially my ju­nior year. It was one of the best years of my life,” Vuce­vic said.

Vuce­vic en­joyed his time at USC so much that he some­times looks back and wishes he were still there. It’s not that he doesn’t ap­pre­ci­ate where life has taken him. Vuce­vic is now a

fa­ther, he’s com­ing off his first all-star sea­son where he helped lead his team to the play­offs and he’s in the first year of a new four-year deal with the Magic.

For Vuce­vic, life is good. But his time at USC is some­thing he’ll never for­get.

“When I look back at it, you kind of miss it,” Vuce­vic said. “You wish you were still in col­lege, but ob­vi­ously I’m in a good place now, too. But col­lege, I think, is a unique ex­pe­ri­ence. I don’t think you can ever repli­cate it any­where else.

“That ex­pe­ri­ence is just amaz­ing when you’re an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kid.”

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