Turkish Airlines EuroLeague
ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT
Vladan Vukosavljevic, Hemofarm
Dec 19, 2005
by Stelios Kyriakoglou, Athens
When it needed a new big man over the summer, Hemofarm Vrsac didn't shop around much. Having run into him before in several recent domestic battles, Hemofarm went right for Vladan Vukosavljevic. Months later, it can only be said that Hemofarm, a ULEB Cup semifinalist last season, chose well. Vukosavljevic, who stands at a brawny 2.05 meters and turned 21 in October, currently holds the ninth-best index rating average in the ULEB Cup. He also leads Hemofarm, tied for second place in Group B, in both scoring and rebounding despite averaging just the fifth-most minutes on the team. And even though his power game certainly looks good enough, Vukosavljevic told ULEBcup.com that he plans to get quicker by losing weight in 2006. "I think that there is more I can do to develop my game," Vukosavljevic said. "I lack quickness and explosiveness, so I have to lose five kilograms of weight. I am planning to do that after the holidays, because there are too many temptations at the table right now."
Vukosavljevic was born in the small Serbian town of Jagodina and moved to another like it, Svilajnac, as a boy. He did not begin serious training at basketball, however, until age 15, with the Svilajnac team in the first division republic league of Serbia. "I am absolutely dedicated to basketball," Vukosavljevic says. "I love this game, and that is not just a phrase I repeat. Even though I tried to play soccer as a child, I soon fell in love with basketball." It didn't take long for scouts at the big Serbian clubs to take note of him. He moved to a famous Crvena Zvezda when he was 18, landing straight on the first team. But his debut in the club from Belgrade was not glorious. He saw action in only two games during the 2002-03 season and did not score a single point.
"I came from the small town and all that happened to me was the story of a teenager who comes to the big city," Vukosavljevic says. "Everything was totally different. Really, I was not able to see myself as a member of Crvena Zvezda. But I love basketball and all that I wanted to do was to practice as much as possible."
At the end of that season, new coach Zmago Sagadin came to Crvena Zvezda with a vision to build new team. There were no place for Vladan Vukosavljevic in his vision and the talented center was loaned to a lower-level local team, OKK Beograd, the team where legendary Radivoj Korac and Borislav Stankovic started their basketball careers. In that club's arena, nicknamed "Korac's yard", Vukosavljevic shined throughout the 2003-04 season. He played 21 games in the Serbia and Montenegro League, averaging 14.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Because OKK Beograd did not make the domestic playoffs, Vukosavljevic decided to move to Lovcen Cetinje to play 11 games at the end of the 2003-04 season. There he averaged 9.1 points and 4.0 rebounds.
His performance that season landed Vukosavljevic on Serbia and Montenegro's under-21 national team for the Global Games in Dallas, Texas, and then on the under-20 team for the European Championships in Brno. "Everything in Dallas was like a miracle to me," Vukosavljevic said. "I felt like I was from another planet. Anyway, I went there to play basketball. But our team played very bad, especially in a game against Ukraine. The atmosphere in Dallas was great and there were many scouts from the NBA and the NCAA all around, but we played poor. After, when we were back in Belgrade, we talked to each other and looked each other in the eyes. We decided to wake up and play better at the European Championships in Brno, Slovakia. And we did. I think we shined there, but we had no luck in the semis against Israel. In the end, we placed fifth, but there were ovations from the Slovakian fans at each game we played."
His year away from the Crvena Zvezda proved reason enough for the club to seek his return, as Sagadin called him back and Vukosavljevic dressed in the red-and-white jersey one more time, but this time as one of the team's protagonists. Last season, he played in 10 ULEB Cup games, averaging 6.9 points and 4.5 rebounds, and in 32 Adriatic League games, putting up 7.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Crvena Zvezda fans fell in love with him because he left his heart on the court in each game. He was called by his nickname, Joe, a reference to his sizable appetite for food. "There was a restaurant in a cartoon that was called Eat at Joe's," Vukosavljevic explains. "I had problems with my weight, so my friends thought it was a good idea to eat in my kitchen all the time."
Then, last summer, there came a new shock for Vukosavljevic, and for Crvena Zvezda fans, too. He was placed on the transfer list and released.
"Many thanks to Crvena Zvezda fans," Vukosavljevic says. "It is normal that they loved me because I was playing with heart. If I was in their place, I would like the same kind of player. But I was disappointed when I was released. For three years, I gave myself to the team and to basketball. I was fighting to play in Crvena Zvezda. You now, I am a fighter. But life goes on."
The fighter did not wait for long before Hemofarm called him. The Adriatic League champion, ULEB Cup semifinalist and domestic runner-up for two years running had just lost center Petar Popovic to Benetton and needed a new big man. With new Hemofarm head coach Luka Pavicevic, three-time European champion with Jugoplastika and Pop 84 from Split, Vukosavljevic quickly found a common language. As soon as the current season began, he started to terrorize opponents in the ULEB Cup and the Adriatic League. In seven ULEB Cup games so far, he is averaging 15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds in 24.6 minutes per game. His stats in the Adriatic League, where he ranks among the leaders in two-point shooting percentage and offensive rebounds, are almost the same.
"I think I am playing pretty good this season, but there is more room for improvement in the ULEB Cup," Vukosavljevic says. "We can play even better and reach at least the semis in the competition."