09 January 2012
In my second year as a pro in the season 1996-97, playing for Okapi Aalst, we started out the season with two American imports players.
One was our star player Daren Queenan (Lehigh 1984-88 and one of NCAA all time leading scorers), the other was Brian Reese (UNC 1990-94 and now an assistant coach at Monmouth).
Scouting and recruiting 15 years ago wasn't at the level it is today and quite early in the season Reese didn't turn out to be the guy our team was looking for. Management instead decided to add another legendary scoring ace to the roster: Borislav 'Boro' Vucevic had been leading the Belgian league in scoring for quite some years averaging 30-plus points per game.
He was a legend also in his native Montenegro, part of former Yugoslavia, for having won several European and Yugoslavian trophies. Although Boro (#15 in above photo) was already in his late thirties at the time he still had the love for the game. He was still athletic, dunking the ball in many ways and running the floor like a youngster. He always took great care of his body, claiming he had never missed a game, and if it was not for his hair that was starting to turn grey no one would have guessed his age right after seeing him play.
I will always remember him for taking tons of extra shots after every practice and for his long stretching sessions. Boro, who was married to former professional basketball player Ljiljana, had also two very tall kids running around. A girl that was about 10-12 years old and one boy named Nikola who must have been about 6 at the time and seemed to carry his basketball around all the time.
I once asked Nikola if he already had started playing for a club team and he told me his dad wouldn't let him. When I confronted Boro he told me all his son had to do was to have fun playing with the ball, not being pushed towards results. And if he would later on decide to let him enroll on a club team, no one else but himself would be his coach.
Boro kept playing professionally until the age of 44 in Belgium and when he retired he kept his promise.
He moved the family back to Montenegro and started coaching his son's young team and working him out individually on a daily basis teaching him the fundamentals that had been a trademark during his whole career.
In order for Nikola to get the most out of his basketball career Boro let him leave for prep school in 2006 and later for the University of Southern California.
Boro's plan for his son worked out quite well. He was chosen with the 16th pick by the Philadelphia 76ers in last year's NBA draft.
When I see Nikola running up and down the floor in the NBA with all the stars now I can somehow still recognize the bright little kid shooting the ball over and over after every of our games back in the day.
photo courtesy of tomas van den spiegel
Tomas Van Den Spiegel is a professional basketball player who has played around Europe for the past 16 years. Currently a center with BC Oostende in his native Belgium, Van Den Spiegel has spent time with Fortitudo Bologna, Virtus Roma, CSKA Moscow, Prokom Sopot, Azovmash Mariupol, Real Madrid and Olimpia Milano. A proud father of two children - Ana and Theo - Van Den Spiegel's "Big Man In Belgium" column is featured regularly on Beyond the Beat. You can follow him on Twitter at @tomasvds
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