By: Ellis Simon
Sept. 18, 2018
Starting with Dražen Petrovic and Vlade Divac in 1989, the six countries that once comprised Yugoslavia – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia – have become a rich source of talent for the National Basketball Association. Today, 16 athletes from the region play in the league. “Just as the Dominican Republic is a pipeline of talent to Major League Baseball, the Balkan states are a pipeline to the NBA,” says CUNY Athletic Conference Executive Director Zak Ivkovic
This summer, Ivkovic was a producer on “Something in the Water,” a documentary that explores this phenomenon through the stories of the newest NBA draftees from the region, Luka Doncic
and Dzanan Musa
. The 43-minute film premiered in August at the Sarajevo Film Festival and is available on Facebook Watch
, where it has already received more than 3.8 million views.
Doncic, 19, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard/small forward from Slovenia, was just 13 when he moved to Madrid, where he had a contract with Real Madrid to play on their under-16 team. At age 16, he became the youngest player to debut with Real’s Liga ACB (top-tier) team. This year, he led Real to the EuroLeague title and was picked as the league’s Most Valuable Player. He was the third overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and was immediately traded by the Atlanta Hawks to the Dallas Mavericks.
Musa, who is also 19, hails from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The 6-foot-9 forward joined Cedevita, a Croatian team, when he was 15 and was chosen 29th overall in the NBA Draft by the Brooklyn Nets, the same team Petrovic played for in the 1990’s.
This region of exceptional basketball talent isn’t just breaking through on the court, but in the front office, as well.
Almost 30 years later, Divac, a 2001 NBA All-Star and two-time Olympian, serves as General Manager of the Sacramento Kings. The NBA will also welcome its first non-North American head coach in 2018-19, as Igor Kokoskov, a native of Serbia, is set to take the reins with the Phoenix Suns.
To tell the story, Ivkovic visited basketball camps where young boys who dream of becoming the next Petrovic follow strict, intensive training regimens as they master the fundamentals of the game. Petrovic, who died in a car accident in 1993, is lionized in his native Croatia, where a museum is dedicated to him, as well as the other former Yugoslav republics.
“Both Doncic and Musa have similar stories of moving away from home at an early age to pursue their dreams,” Ivkovic noted. “Having to choose between staying in school or trying to become a professional athlete is common in many parts of the world.”
Ivkovic, who played soccer for Hunter College and is a native of Serbia, became involved with international basketball when he worked at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona while interning and getting his start with NBC Sports. He later helped cover the next four Summer Olympic Games, along with numerous World Basketball Championships. His contacts with players and coaches globally helped him line up interviews for the film.
He traveled to Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Italy in May to spend 2 ½ weeks interviewing the players, their parents and coaches and shooting B-roll. Afterwards, he did additional taping and interviews at the NBA Draft in New York and the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. Fellow CUNY alum Peter Radovich
(Baruch men’s basketball student-athlete), a creative director with CBS Sports and the film’s executive producer, then edited the tapes to create the final product.
Former Brooklyn men’s basketball student-athlete Fran Fraschilla
, a former NCAA Division I collegiate basketball coach with stops at Manhattan, St. John’s and New Mexico, is prominently featured in the documentary as a current ESPN employee and international basketball analyst.
“It’s a different world, for sure. In the United States, we teach our youth to go to college and pursue their dreams both athletically and academically,” Ivkovic said. “Our students can take advantage of what they have here that no one else in the world does.”
Ivkovic then went on to add: “Sports teaches you things about human interaction you don’t learn through other pursuits. You learn to work together rather than take your own path. I like that athletes take that path. It’s more common sense than antagonistic.”