Dejan Kravic was 2 years old when the bombings began.
After Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, Mostar was subject to an 18-month siege.
His parents knew their family couldn’t stay.
“I was four and my little brother, Aleksandar, was two,” former Texas Tech center Kravic said. “Our mom, Svjetlana, and dad, Milosav, thought it was best that we leave that scene. We decided to move to Canada. They accepted us, and we’re happy with the decision.”
It was tough for the Kravic family at first.
They were 4,654 miles from home.
Dejan and Aleksandar got in trouble at day care for fighting with their teachers because once their parents dropped them off, they got upset and struggled as their teachers tried to comfort them.
While the boys had to adjust to day care, their parents had to find new jobs in a new land with a new language.
“My parents didn’t know any English,” Kravic said. “They were teachers back in Bosnia. My dad got a good job at Nestle. He’s been there for 17 or 18 years. Dad rode his bike to and from work in the freezing winters in Canada to put food on the table. He’d work 10 hours a day and then ride his bike at least 40 miles to work.”
Growing up watching his father’s hard work as he braved the elements to support his family inspired Dejan.
During his time playing sports, if he ever had a hard practice, he thought about his father and whatever was frustrating him seemed like nothing.
Making the team
Kravic felt chills go down his spine when he got the news.
He made the training camp roster for the Serbian national team.
“It’s one of the best teams in the world,” said Kravic, who became a naturalized Canadian with dual citizenship in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2000. “It will be fun training with the players I’ve looked up to all my life.”
The current roster of 29 will be cut to 12 by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup in August, but whether or not he makes the cut, Kravic said that just seeing his name with the team is a blessing.
At 5-foot-9, 120 pounds he barely made his high school’s freshman team but he kept going up from there.
“I grew to like 6-foot-3 by 10th grade, 6-foot-6 by 11th grade and then I was 6-foot-9 my final year,” Kravic said. “That’s when I really realized I had a future in basketball.
“My background in soccer helped my footwork and coordination.”
Kravic — now a 7-footer — decided to stay in Canada and play his first two years of college at York. After his first year, people began to tell him he could play in the states.
Originally, Kravic wanted to attend Rice but wasn’t able to get in. Nothing was working out until Kravic got a call from former Tech coach Billy Gillispie.
Once the paperwork was complete, Kravic was on his way, making the 1,289-mile trip to Lubbock.
Like his former teammate Jaye Crockett, Kravic also played for a plethora of head coaches — three at York and two at Tech.
“Coach (Tubby) Smith helped me out a lot after the season ended,” Kravic said. “He told me if I ever need anything to let him know. He helped me a lot and taught me how to play the game a lot smarter. My junior season, the team was all over the place. It was more about individuals than the team. With Coach Smith, we learned how to play as a team.”
From his junior to senior year, Kravic’s numbers dropped. He scored 1.7 fewwer points and pulled down .6 fewer rebounds per game. While those figures are minute, they have raised concerns from prospective teams.
“Because my numbers went down, they think my game went down when really I got a lot better,” Kravic said. “I was just playing in a different system. I learned how to play tougher and hustle and the great thing is I can combine that with the rebounding and what I did my junior season. I have the skill, mobility and height to play in a higher league even though other people think I shouldn’t.”
The waiting game
Kravic is waiting for something better.
He already received a few offers from European teams but he turned them down.
“They were solid offers, but in mediocre leagues,” he said. “I believe I can play in one of the top leagues in Europe. My agents, Matt Slan (FIBA) and Keith Kreiter (NBA) think that, too.”
His sights are set on Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Turkey and Russia, but he plans on waiting until he goes to Serbia to train with the national team to sign a contract.
“There will be a million scouts there with the Serbian national team,” he said. “Once I come back home, I’ll maybe sign then or do it when I’m in Serbia. It will be either mid- or late July.”
In preparation for this next phase, Kravic talked to a lot of people about playing basketball in Europe. They told him the two hardest things about it: the foreign language and being away from home.
While he knows he will have to adjust to the language barrier, Kravic won’t be too far from his family. His parents, brother and uncle live in Canada, while the rest of his family still lives in Europe.
“I haven’t seen them in about 10 years,” Kravic said. “They’re really excited and are coming down to Serbia to see me.”
As for the money, Kravic’s agents told him not to worry about it the first year. Eventually he will make money, but his focus the first year needs to be on making a name for himself.
“Unless you’re a big-name in the NCAA, they don’t really pay too much attention to college players because they think their skills can’t translate over to Europe,” Kravic said. “Once they see that you can play there, the money skyrockets. You can be making $50 thousand one year and it could increase up to $200 thousand. It all depends on that first year.”
A new life
Kravic returned to Canada in May.
He began working out at his old high school gym. For two hours every day before school starts he worked out with his brother Aleksandar.
In the afternoons he went to the recreation center and the local university, lifted weights and shot.
He trained in Hamilton, Ontario, working out with a man he called, “best trainer in Canada,” Kyle Julius — all in an effort to continue his career.
“My shot has improved for sure,” Kravic said. “That’s really what I’ve been working on the most. The better you can shoot, the more you’ll be on the court.”
That’s especially true in Europe, where the game is more fluid and big men who can shoot are in high demand. Because of his ability to pick-and-pop and shoot the ball as well as drive, Kravic is expecting to play a little bit at both the power forward and center positions.
“It’s a lot of skills,” Kravic said. “Most of the bigs can handle the ball and shoot the 3. In America basketball is just a lot more physical. It’s a more up-and-down pace and the speed is at another level. In Europe it’s more of a pick-and-roll type of scene.”
Unless he makes the Serbian team, Kravic plans to return to Canada at the end of July and be in Europe by the third week of August to start his professional career — something he doesn’t want to end until he is in his mid-30s.
“That would be a great career,” Kravic said. “Because I started the sport late, people are saying that because I’m 23 I’m already too old. But I really just scratched my surface. I still have so much to improve on that I’ve only just begun.”
Even though he says he hasn’t looked into what he wants to do after basketball yet, he knows he wants to help kids.
“At Texas Tech, we would go and visit kids in hospitals and I loved doing that,” he said. “One thing that comes to mind is being a teacher.”
Just like his parents were in Mostar before the bombs came and altered his life forever.
“If the war didn’t happen, we would have a completely different life,” Kravic said. “We’re happy being here.”
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