Croatian player brings versatility to basketball team

Junior forward Jere Vucica runs toward the ball during a practice drill Nov. 6. The Croatian native is one of the key returnees for the Lions.

He dunks, shoots and blocks shots. He is “The Croatian Sensation.”

Junior forward Jere Vucica reigns from Split, Croatia, and is one of several key returners to the 2014-2015 men’s basketball team. Vucica arrived at UNA two years ago thanks to YouTube, as he sent basketball highlights to coaches across the country to get recognition.

“I just kept putting up clips and sending emails to coaches and ended up at Santa Fe Community College,” he said. “(Former UNA assistant coach Scott) Morris saw me at a jamboree at the beginning of the year and kept track of me throughout the season and then offered me a scholarship to UNA.”

Vucica said he enjoys the nickname “The Croatian Sensation.”

“I love it and I think it’s great,” he said. “The first time I heard it was when I went up for a dunk, and was coming back on defense and I heard the announcer say ‘slam dunk by The Croatian Sensation.’ I couldn’t help but laugh.”

Champagne, however, said he does not call him “The Croatian Sensation,” but he calls him everything but his real name.

“It’s a running joke with me is that I see how many different ways I can pronounce his name,” he said. “Sometimes I call him ‘Jerry’ just to see if he’s paying attention.”

Last season Vucica averaged 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds a game. He also finished with 16 blocks.

“It’s important to have him, Calvin (Dade) and Nathan (Spehr) back,” said head coach Bobby Champagne. “Those three guys were huge contributors to last year’s team. They understand what it’s going to take.”

Vucica has stepped up through the first three games of the season scoring 15.3 points and grabbing 6.7 rebounds a game.

Champagne said Vucica has shown the ability to score inside and step out and hit the three-point shot for the Lions.

“When he’s playing the small forward spot he can stretch out the defense and shoot it,” he said. “Against bigger guys he should have more quickness and be able to put it on the floor. Against smaller guys he should be able to post them up.

“He’s 6’8”, long and athletic so you can do some different things with a guy like that.”

Vucica said he is proud to live up to the stereotypical ‘European big man’ that possesses the ability to shoot and handle the basketball.

“I grew up playing different basketball that is played in the States and it took some time to adapt,” he said. “Basketball is less physical (in Europe) and the offenses are more team oriented with a lot of passing, cutting and screens. Here people run less offenses, but there is more individual talent.”

Vucica said growing up in Europe has helped with his basketball play at UNA.

“He has a high basketball IQ,” Champagne said.