The Big Serb: Dejan Kravic|
January 3, 2014
As a toddler, most of us are in the moment. Dejan Kravic survived the moment.
Kravic was born on Sept. 9, 1990, in Mostar, Yugoslavia, one of the oldest cities in the world. It is a city that has been on the trade route between mineral-rich Bosnia and the Adriatic.
Mostar has been occupied by human settlements since prehistory. It has been occupied by the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Independent State of Croatia, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and is now a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In 1992, just before Kravic's second birthday, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia. The war rolled into Mostar. By Kravic's fourth birthday, his uncle had fled the violence for a better life in Canada. A month later, Dejan, his father Milosav and mother Svjetlana followed suit and headed to London, Ontario.
It was a new life in a new world, but there was no more gun fire and no more bombs.
Growing up, Dejan learned his work ethic from his father. Upon arriving in Canada, Milosav learned English and rode his bike 40 minutes to and from work every day, while never complaining, but providing for his family and serving as a role model to his sons.
By 2000, Dejan had become a naturalized Canadian with a dual citizenship in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"My love for soccer comes from being Serbian," said Kravic. "My uncle played club soccer in Canada and my family was really into soccer."
But then about the start of the eighth grade his passion switched from the pitch to the hard court.
"It was about that time I had to decide if I was going to go to a soccer tournament in Toronto or play in a 3-on-3 tournament for basketball. My parents and I decided to focus on basketball and I gave up soccer all together," added Kravic.
As the ninth grade began, Kravic was 5-foot-10 and focusing his energy on basketball. He grew five inches that year and moved from guard to forward. By the 11th grade, Kravic had grown two more inches and was 6-5. By the time Kravic graduated from Westminster High School in London, Ontario, he was 6-10.
He was a three-time most valuable player at Westminster and led the school to the Class AA finals of the OFSAA Championships in 2009. His efforts at Westminster earned Kravic All-Ontario honors as a senior.
After graduating, Kravic had offers from Cornell, Eastern Kentucky and Houston Baptist, but he had his sights set on something different.
"Where I am from, there really is no way to get exposure to college scouts," said Kravic. "The way I got exposure was before my final year of high school, I got invited to a Nike prospect camp in Toronto. Based off of that, I got offers from almost every school in Canada and a few schools in the States."
"York came to all of my games and they had a need at my position and it seemed like a good fit," said Kravic. "There were a bunch of young guys coming in, so it was setting up for a good future."
As a freshman, Kravic averaged 13.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game and was selected to the Ontario University Athletics All-Rookie Team and was named the York University Rookie of the Year.
"I got a lot of playing time that first year and it really helped me," said Kravic. "We beat the best team in Canada my freshman year and I probably played the best game of my life."
Kravic added 15.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks as a sophomore. Nationally in Canada, he ranked second in blocks and fifth in rebounding, earning OUA East All-Star honors.
"At York, I was able to play with a lot of confidence. My teammates were my best friends," added Kravic. "We had some great coaches and I was able to develop.
"Even after my first year, people were asking me `Why are you still in Canada?' But for me, it was kind of risky to make that jump then. After my second year, I told York I was going to play south of the border. Once I did that, a lot of schools began contacting me."
Through the whole recruiting process, Kravic had settled on Rice University in Houston.
"To get into Rice, I needed to take one extra class at York. I was driving back home from York after completing the class and I got a call and I was told I was not going to be able to get into Rice," said Kravic.
So with less than a week before classes were to start, Kravic was sent scrambling. He was on an island with no school.
"There were schools that were interested, but things didn't work out. Some schools wanted me to play right away, but once they figured out I could not play right away, they shied away.
"Then I talked to coach (Billy) Gillispie and he got me into school. He sent me my paperwork and I decided to go to Texas Tech."
Kravic redshirt his first season on the South Plains, adjusting to the size and speed of players in the Big 12 versus the smaller Canadian style he had been playing.
"It was 690 days from my last game in Canada to my first game for Texas Tech," added Kravic. "It was a great feeling to get on the court and play again."
In his first season as a Red Raider, Kravic averaged 9.0 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He earned Academic All-Big 12 honors and graduated with a degree in human sciences in May.
He may be most remembered for his putback bucket to win the first round game against West Virginia in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championships last March.
This season, Kravic has battled through injuries with both his knee and back and is starting to return to form.
Through the first nine games of the season, Kravic was averaging just 4.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. But then over a three-game stretch against Central Arkansas, LSU and Arizona State, he has averaged 11 points and 8.9 boards.
Kravic credits the improvement to his position coach Vince Taylor.
"Having a guy like Coach Vince telling you stuff, you have to respect him. He has done it. He has been there," said Kravic. "He has helped me be a better player. With his credentials, the fact that he has been in the NBA, you have to listen. He has a lot of knowledge to offer about the post position."
Kravic's collegiate basketball journey is one in million. He has played at two schools under five head coaches - two at York and three at Texas Tech.
"I like to look at everything positively," said Kravic. "I feel like I have learned from each one of my coaches I have played for over the last five years. You could focus on the negatives, but I really look at what I have had the opportunity to do. Right now I am playing for a legendary coach in Tubby Smith. I got to play under coach Gillispie, who did some great things, and coach (Chris) Walker was great too.
"In Canada, I got to play for one of the legends in Canadian coaching. Overall, my experience with each of my coaches was great."
With his degree in hand and a master's degree in Sports Management on the horizon, Kravic truly sees the value of the education that basketball has given him.
"This has been such a special experience, especially graduating in four years and having the opportunity to get a master's this May is great. I will be the first in my family to earn a master's degree and that means a lot to my family," said Kravic. "The fact that I was able to get this education for free means a lot to both me and my family. We did not have this same opportunity in Canada, where we had to pay for school."
As the season moves forward, Kravic will continue to go to practice, hit the books and maintain constant contact with his family.
"Being away from my family has been really hard," added Kravic. "I am focused on finishing my degree, getting better on the basketball court and making my family proud."
From Mostar to London to Lubbock, it is a journey like no other for the seven-footer.