Often times, the Americanized approach to scouting and evaluating talent is completely focused on immediate gratification. Player X is better than Player Y right now, therefore Player X is clearly the better option…right? Not necessarily, especially when comparing international prospects to those who have spent the entirety of their lives in America. It seems that folks neglect to realize just how advantageous it is to learn the game of basketball in a country with so many additional resources. Basketball isn’t even the most popular sport in the majority of the world. That being said, it seems like many foreign prospects receive too harsh of criticism from the general masses. Take Markus Ilver for example, someone who clearly had the makings of a high-major prospect, played in front of three dozen Division I coaches (at an event), received no offers, and ultimately committed to Wisconsin five months later after becoming one of the hottest prospects in the country. The examples are endless, and hopefully this article serves as a reminder for folks to not continually make the same mistakes. In looking at Sergej Cvetkovic, it appears something special could be on the horizon.
Production is widely regarded as a strong point of emphasis when talking about a given players’ ability to transition from the high school game to the collegiate ranks. However, it’s much less significant for international prospects. While it is important, it’s relevance shouldn’t be atop the list, especially right away. It’s almost as if these guys aren’t receiving the appropriate amount of credit for still being able to learn the nuances of a game that completely differs beyond America. Did Cvetkovic set the North Carolina landscape ablaze during his first season at Concord Academy? Of course not, but that’s exactly the point: he wasn’t supposed to. Although there are some examples to the contrary, the list of international prospects who dominated American high school basketball within six to twelve months of arriving is seemingly non-existent. In order to further the point, we caught up with the blossoming two-way prospect.
When asked about making the transition to America, Cvetkovic stated, “I came over in August last year, right before the school season started. It was always my dream to play basketball in America since I was a little kid. I always dreamed about playing in the NBA, and I always liked American basketball better than European basketball, so I decided to come over to Concord Academy and pursue my dream.” It’s unclear if any statement he uttered resonated more than this, because it only solidifies how kids tend to take being American-born for granted. This is a literal dream for Cvetkovic, and meanwhile other prospects can’t even get motivated to play hard in front of coaches. In contrasting the two styles of play (American versus European), he claimed, “The main difference between the two styles is that American basketball is [at a] much faster pace, and there are many more isolation situations. In Europe, the focus is more on running plays all the time. Also, there is a running clock in high school in Europe, which is not the case here. The idea in Europe is kind of to use all 24 seconds of the shot-clock if possible and look for the best shot, so the game is much slower. Taking a three-pointer on a fast-break is still something that is a “bad shot” in European high school basketball, which is not the case here. Fast-break three-pointers are the shot I shoot the most now.”
Cvetkovic continued to offer insight about his overall transition, “American basketball is much more physical and that is the biggest adjustment I had to make, and I’m still kind of adjusting to that. I had to get faster, stronger, and more athletic in order to play the position I played back home. Players at each position are taller in Europe, so coming here, guys at my position are shorter and faster than me. It was hard to stay in front of them defensively at first, and I turned the ball over a lot, but once I got quicker and more physical it started to become much easier. Another thing for me was forgetting about European basketball and just trying to focus on this whole new style. It was kind of messing with my head at first. Some shots that are “bad shots” in Europe are great shots here. I really just had to forget everything I knew about European basketball and learn how to play American basketball. Once I gained confidence and become more comfortable with the American style, it all just became so easy.” As far as his continued improvements, Cvetkovic stated, “The main thing I am working on and have to work on going forward is my dribble and taking the ball to the basket. I am a great shooter but won’t always be able to rely just on that. Also, I’m still working on my overall athleticism and quickness. That will be a very important factor at the next level.”
That being said, Cvetkovic clearly has the makings of a next-level prospect and someone who should be monitored closely by various types of Division I coaches. The aforementioned production is guaranteed to increase, as over 70% of Concord Academy’s scoring is set to graduate or further their playing career. Throughout the past weekend, he showcased extended flashes of what we can expect from him going forward. The long, wiry wing/forward prospect is an elite perimeter shooter with legitimate size and feel for the game. He’s already shown incredible strides within his progression as an all-around player, and should only continue to steadily develop before ultimately blowing up. Cvetkovic possesses toughness, unselfishness, defensive prowess, and the makings of an inside-out mismatch for opponents. It’s early, but folks would be wise to start taking note of the potential star.