A hero at home, Nik Vucevic wants to give his countrymen more to cheer

The town of Bar, Montenegro, sits on the Adriatic Sea. During the day, its 20,000 inhabitants flock to beaches and coffeehouses. On warm nights, people stroll along one of the main streets, giving the place a family atmosphere. Historic churches and picturesque mountains dot the landscape.

Nik Vucevic never expected to be well-known there. His family moved to Bar during his teenage years, and he's spent the last several years in the U.S.

But everywhere he went in Bar during the offseason, random strangers stopped him and congratulated him for how he played during his first season with the Orlando Magic.

"It made me feel great," Vucevic said Wednesday. "I'm still 22. To have people come up to me and congratulate me and little kids telling me I'm their 'idol,' it's all great."

Vucevic, a 7-foot-tall center, made his countrymen proud in 2012-13.

He thrived as the Magic struggled. He finished second in the NBA in rebounding and third in double-doubles. His success seemed to come out of nowhere. He had played sparingly as a rookie with the Philadelphia 76ers, and the 76ers traded him to the Magic as part of the deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers.

People now wonder what Vucevic will do for an encore.

He spent much of his offseason working on developing go-to moves close to the basket. If he can become more of a threat near the hoop, opposing defenses might collapse on him, which could, in turn, create opportunities for his Magic teammates.

Vucevic conducted some of his workouts under the watchful eye of his dad, Borislav Vucevic, who played professional basketball in Europe for more than two decades and played for Yugoslavia's national team.

Basketball is the Vucevic family's craft. Even Nik's mom played professionally.

Because of that influence, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said he doesn't think success will inflate Vucevic's ego.

"He's a guy that I don't have to worry about," Vaughn said. "With his father playing so many years and having the influence in his life that he has, he's been trained to train himself."

Magic officials say they're pleased with Vucevic's strides in the weight room. They wanted him to work on his lateral quickness, explosiveness and upper-body strength, and Vaughn said Wednesday that Vucevic has improved.

Team officials also want Vucevic to play more aggressively and with more confidence.

He is polite and soft-spoken off the court. But it often helps to play with a mean streak on the court, especially in the rough-and-tumble world of NBA big men.

"I think Nik ended last season with a high degree of confidence," Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan said. "I think we're looking for him to continue to play confidently and to continue to build on the type of aggression and physicality that he plays with on a nightly basis."

Vucevic ended last season with nine consecutive double-doubles.

Word of his exploits circulated throughout Montenegro.

When Vucevic was a child, he often approached pro players for autographs. One of his favorite players was Yugoslavian point guard Aleksandar Djordjevic.

A few months ago, when Vucevic returned home, children often approached him.

"I really enjoy it when people do that," Vucevic said. "When I was younger, I used to go up to players that I would see, and now it happens to me and I'm only 22. I've just started to play basketball, really. For people to recognize what I do, it really means a lot to me."

In the year ahead, Vucevic wants to reward his countrymen's faith in him.


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