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Croat fights his battles on a basketball court


A year ago, Igor Milosevic was on the verge of being drafted into the Croatian army to fight in a bloody civil war.

Today, the only battles facing the 19-year-old are the contests on the basketball court at the Annapolis Recreation Center in downtown Annapolis. Last September, the 6-foot, 5-inch Mr. Milosevic left his home in Zagreb and came to Maryland on a student visa to pursue his dream of becoming a professional basketball player.

His older brother, Vladimir, who plays basketball for the University of Maryland Baltimore County, helped him find a school and a team.

He enrolled in Southern High School and played on the school's boys basketball team, which was ranked No. 1 in the area.

His brother also helped introduce him to Goucher College Coach Leonard Trevino, who invited Mr. Milosevic to join the young Goucher squad.

"This is a big year for us," said Mr. Trevino. Although Goucher has had a men's basketball team for only four years, last year the team won the Capital Athletic Conference title.

"We honestly think we have a chance to get to the NCAA (tournament) this year," Mr. Trevino said.

As Mr. Milosevic waits for school to start, he works as a busboy at Cafe Normandie restaurant on Main Street in Annapolis and plays pickup games at the recreation center, near the City Dock, as often as he can.

He does not know when he will see his country again.

Mr. Milosevic doesn't like to talk about politics. He said his childhood in Tito's Yugoslavia was not much different than children's lives else where. He went to school, watched television and played sports, especially basketball.

But as Communism collapsed and the country began to break apart, even the lives of the students changed. Friends were being drafted, and some were dying in the war between the Croats, Serbs and Muslims.

Although Zagreb was spared most of the fighting, the Croatian capital still suffered from shortages and skyrocketing prices.

Mr. Milosevic had other problems as well. He shared the same last name as the despised Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic. Although they are not related, Mr. Milosevic said it was hard for him to find work in Croatia because of his name.

A week before he left for America, the war came closer to his home. Serbs fired upon Zagreb. "That was a shock for me," he said.

His older brother introduced him to basketball when he was in elementary school. In Croatia he played guard. At Southern he played center or power forward, and he expects to play forward at Goucher.

Although he wanted to be near his brother, Mr. Milosevic said he didn't want to play on the same team. His brother, he said, is bigger and perhaps more talented, and he wanted to avoid comparisons.

"I think I can play a level above, but it's the right place for me to start," Mr. Milosevic said.

He will face tough competition. Goucher's entire starting lineup will be returning this season.

Mr. Trevino said Mr. Milosevic will need to become heavier and stronger.

After Goucher, Mr. Milosevic hopes to play for professional teams, either in the United States or in Europe.

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