By Jeff Batt | email@example.com
The idea of playing professional basketball for many Division II players tends to be a fantasy. But for former Flagler basketball player Ante Gospic it has become a reality in his home country of Croatia. Gopsic plays for BC Cibona Zagreb in the city of Zadar, Croatia, a whopping 5,108 miles from St. Augustine.
For Gospic, playing professional ball has meant major adjustments to fulfill his dream.
“It takes a lot of sacrifices,” he said. “Sometimes people think that it’s easy. You play pro, it’s easy for you. We practice twice a day, two hours in morning, two in afternoon, but you always make sure you are there 45 minutes before and between every practice you need a good rest and eat well. You can’t really plan up ahead to do something else because you are always busy with practices, games and everything else that comes up with it.”
BC Cibona Zagreb is a pro team that is a part of the Croatian League, ABA League and FIBA Europe Cup. The team was founded in 1946, but was formerly known as SD Sloboda until they changed it to KK Cibona in 1975. The team now referred to BC Cibona, is known to be a “Croatian powerhouse” as they have won seven of the league’s coveted Yugoslav League Cups. With all of its success and dominance in the league, Gospic knows that this is now far from a fantasy.
“It means a lot to me, especially to be a part of team like this one, which had a huge success throughout the history after a long time being out of Croatia,” he said. “It feels great to be back and play in my country.”
Gospic was born in Zadar, Croatia, in 1990. He lived there until 1992, when his dad, who served in the army, sent him and his mother to Germany because of the ongoing war in Croatia. He was able to return after a few months once tensions simmered down.
Growing up in Zadar with his sister Elizabeta, Gospic spent a lot of his time watching some of the best in the game of basketball.
“I watched all those NBA stars, such as Michael Jordan, Shaq, Rodman, Kobe, and all others, also Croatian players who played in NBA, and their life through college and pro career,” he said. “I always dreamed of being in the States.”
But it wasn’t just about watching the best. Gospic knew he had to learn the skills of the game to compete with the best.
“When I was young I practiced once a day, sometimes twice, but it wasn’t that easy to practice that much because of school, so once a day was usually practice, but I would always play somewhere else on my own parks.”
Making the move to the U.S.
Transitioning from a foreign country to another nation like the U.S. can be tough on anyone emotionally, and especially when the languages are completely different. Gospic was not sure about coming to the U.S. until a friend talked him into it.
“At age 16 to 17, Emilio Kovacic, ex-pro basketball player, during our individual workout just mentioned something about basketball in States because he also went through college, and that was it. I just knew that’s it, and that was my chance, so he helped me with everything and we did it.”
He attended Zion Lutheran High School in Deerfield Beach, Florida, for his senior year. He went on to play for the school’s varsity basketball program and eventually took the next step on the collegiate level.
But the transition to U.S. customs took a toll on him emotionally.
“That transition was difficult for me,” he said. “I came to States without knowing anyone or anything in beginning, and I didn’t know English very well. It was very poor. It was my first time leaving home and my parents, and going somewhere so far. It was like a new world, something I just have seen on TV. But that was my dream. I always wanted to go, and sometimes you have to sacrifice a lot to accomplish what you want. First few weeks I didn’t even unpack my suitcase because I was thinking about leaving every day. It was weird, different, but at the same time nice. That sometimes in those first few weeks I would wake up and pinch myself because I used to think I was dreaming.”
The hardest part of pursuing this dream was being away from the most important part of his life, his family.
“I’m really close to my parents, really close, and it was really hard without them, but they were always with me, my number one fans, who are always there to help me and support me.”
Life at Flagler
Gospic began his collegiate career at Polk State College in Florida where he played in over 50 games in his two years. For his junior season, he transferred to Flagler to take part in longtime coach Bo Clark’s historic program.
“I will never forget that day when I went to visit Flagler. Coach Bo Clark came to pick me up in Winter Haven, where I was in junior college. On the way there, he took me the longer way, by the beach, because he knew how much I loved the beach. Coach Clark is a great guy. He told me everything about Flagler — the city, people, history, everything, and the most important thing, he was honest with me, and that’s what I appreciate the most. Flagler itself is unique, beautiful, and I just knew that’s where I wanted to be, in that program, even though I had other offers and all. But I knew Flagler was it.”
His decision to join the Saints held up well in the long-run. In his junior season, Gospic started 24 games and recorded 18 rebounds in a single game, which ranks 2nd in Flagler men’s basketball history. In 2012, his senior season he was a member of the Second-Team All-Peach Belt Conference Squad.
Gospic cherished every possible moment he was able to take in St. Augustine and holds it near and dear to his heart today.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now. They all helped me a lot, especially Coach Clark,” he said. “He was always honest to me, and I respect that. I always tried to give my best on the court, for him, for the team.”
Now 5,000 miles away in Croatia, Gospic is playing near his hometown, a professional for three years. He was originally drafted by Cibona, but had a short stint with KK Zabok in between, averaging 9.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. This past year Gospic was selected to the Danish Ligaen All-Bosmans Teams while he was playing for Horsens IC.
Now back with BC Cibona, he is continuing to give up his schedule to pursue his dream and create a name for himself in the league.
To add on to a rigorous practice schedule Gospic has to take part in the other responsibilities of a professional traveling. He and his teammates travel throughout Europe on a constant basis, and he typically plays in two games a week. Currently, the team has advanced far in the FIBA Europe Cup, which means more traveling for him and his teammates
Gospic has had a slower start this season only averaging 4.8 points and 2 rebounds per game, but with his proven past, he expects to turn it around in no time.
Flagler Head Coach Clark said he always saw something great out of Gospic, both on and off the court.
“One of the best physical rebounders and fiercest competitors I have had in my 30 years here,” he said. “I call him a true warrior. I don’t call just anyone a warrior. When you say that, it is one of the greatest compliments you can give a player. I think when he came to Flagler it helped his overall game, it improved his scoring, rebounding, ball-handling and most importantly his confidence as a basketball player. He embraced and really enjoyed his college experience with his friends, along with the community. I am really proud that he is doing well at the professional level.”
Gospic and his teammates are currently cruising through the FIBA World Cup as they have advanced onto the final eight after beating BC Crvena Zvezda this week. Their next opponent will be Enisey Krasnoyarsk Basketball Club in Russia as he will look to be a big contributor to the teams ongoing success.
Gospic said he has no idea what the future holds, but is taking it a day at a time as he lives out his dream of playing professional basketball.
“There is no specific plan, but maybe God has a plan for me that I don’t know,” he said. “I just pray to stay healthy, just play as long as I can, the best I can, and let it all happen. I am a happy person. I like to make people happy, be happy and enjoy life.”