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College Basketball

How a former NBA assistant and a passion for basketball brought Serbian twins Milos and Veljko Ilic to Loyola Maryland

Opponents are not seeing double when they clash with the Loyola Maryland men’s basketball team.

Milos and Veljko Ilic are twin brothers from Gornji Milanovac, Serbia, and freshmen for the Greyhounds this winter. They both play the power forward spot, and they are both listed at 6 feet, 10 inches and 230 pounds.

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On the court, Milos Ilic (pronounced ME-losh ILL-itch) wears a No. 11 jersey, while Veljko (pronounced VELL-ko) wears No. 1. Off the court, they have grown accustomed to being confused for one another.

“I used to correct people,” Milos said of being called Veljko. “But now I just say, ‘I’m Veljko.’ If somebody calls me Veljko, I’m Veljko. I have no problem with that.”

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Said Veljko on whether he reminds people he is not Milos: “Maybe sometimes, but usually I’m tired of correcting them. I just answer their question.”

The 19-year-old Ilic brothers have contributed to Loyola enjoying an 11-6 overall record and a 5-1 mark in the Patriot League — the program’s best start in the conference since joining the league for the 2013-14 season. In 17 games, including 14 starts, Milos Ilic ranks fifth on the team in points at 5.6 per game and sixth in rebounds at 3.5. Veljko has come off the bench in all 17 games to rank fourth in points at 5.9 and fifth in rebounds at 3.6.

Assistant coach Ivo Simović (pronounced E-vo SEE-mo-VICH), a 43-year-old native of Belgrade, Serbia, who has an NBA championship ring from the 2013-14 season when he was an assistant on the staff of the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, recruited the brothers to the Greyhounds and said they have shown promise.

“If you just see them physically, they’re so big and strong,” he said. “People who came to watch our practices earlier in the year, they thought they were seniors, and they look like seniors. … They have a lot of learning in front of them and a lot of development. They’re disciplined, they’re listening. I think they’re going to have a really good run as college basketball players.”

Born April 8, 2002, to Aneta and Zeljko (pronounced ZELL-ko) Ilic, Milos is five minutes older than Velljko and occasionally felt the need to remind his brother of the difference when they played basketball, chess and video games and competed for top marks in school.

“Big rivalry,” Milos said. “When we played one-one-one, it’s always a fistfight.”

Zeljko Ilic played professional basketball in Serbia and other parts of Europe, and his passion for the sport rubbed off on the boys.

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“They were 7 years old when they started playing and practicing basketball,” Aneta and Zeljko Ilic wrote in an email. “They were very tall for their age, so it was obvious that we would try with basketball first, and of course the home atmosphere, because of me [Zeljko], they were surrounded with basketball. We watched games together, they saw all my pictures and videos from when I was a player. They liked it right away, so they didn’t ask to try any other sport, and we didn’t insist.”

When Simović was an assistant coach at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for the 2017-18 season, he received a phone call from Zeljko Ilic, his former teammate in Serbia. Ilic asked Simović about sending his sons to the Hoosac School in Hoosick, New York. Simović researched the school and returned a favorable response to his friend.

During the Ilic boys’ two-year stay there, Zeljko Ilic asked Simović if he would recruit his sons to Loyola. Simović agreed, adding that he was touched by his friend’s request.

“It’s an honor that you have somebody who trusts you that much that he sends you his kids and say, ‘That person can take care of my kids,’” said Simović, who did the same thing for friend Santiago Aldama, who sent his son Santi Aldama to the Greyhounds for two seasons before he became the first player in program history to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft in July. “It’s not easy to let a kid go overseas. It’s a long distance, there’s a time difference. You cannot just call your family because here when it’s 6 p.m., it’s after midnight overseas. So there’s a time difference and language barrier. It’s definitely a big responsibility and a big honor.”

Simović has taken the Ilic boys to a restaurant in Baltimore owned by a Bosnian man who serves ćevapi, a dish of minced meat sausages similar to a kebab that is considered the national dish of Serbia. Milos Ilic said he and his brother have a strong bond with Simović.

“When you have someone from your country who speaks your language and he’s one of the big coaches there, it’s a big advantage,” he said. “We really trust him and we’re really grateful to have him there to help us.”

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Aneta and Zeljko Ilic recently flew to Baltimore to spend time with their sons, whom they hadn’t seen since July. They wrote in an email that they had changed — “for the better of course” — and that they look more serious and mature, as well as taller and stronger.

Another source of comfort has been a growing friendship between the Ilic boys and sophomore power forward Alonso “Zo” Faure (pronounced FOW-ray), a native of Busot, Spain, whose 6-10, 221-pound frame is so similar to the brothers that they have been called “The Triplets.”

“He’s European, a tall, smart guy,” Milos Ilic said, adding that Faure joined the family for lunch. “We get along with him pretty well.”

The brothers have been teaching Serbian to Faure, who surprised Simović with his grasp of the language.

“I’m used to speaking Spanish with Alonso,” Simović said. “The other day, he came up to me, and he started speaking Serbian. And I’m looking at him and giving him answers in Spanish. And then I realized after a good two minutes, ‘Damn, Zo, you speak Serbian?’ So it’s unbelievable how much Serbian he learned. You can literally have a conversation with Alonso in Serbian.”

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As for distinguishing the Ilic brothers, Simović said he can usually identify the correct one, especially since Veljko is growing a beard on his chin. But he admitted that he does have his second-take moments.

“For me, during practices when I’m coaching and I’m doing my stuff, I have to check their [jersey] numbers, and those two have 1 and 11,” he said. “Sometimes I want to say something to Veljko, and I say, ‘Veljko,’ and then I say, ‘No, I mean, Milos.’”

The Ilic boys said their ultimate objective is playing professionally either here or back in Europe. Until then, they said they want to be more productive for the Greyhounds.

Aneta and Zeljko Ilic said they are thankful for the chance to watch their sons at Loyola.

“It is a really special and wonderful feeling,” they wrote. “We could hardly wait to come and see them play in-person. At home, we watched games online. We are very proud of them, and we are very grateful to Loyola [Maryland] University, the academic and sports departments, and their coaches for their trust and for giving them the opportunity to study and play basketball at a high level.”

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For the record

A previous version of this article had the incorrect age for Milos and Veljko Ilic. The Sun regrets the error.


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