Little Serbia is a growing Kamloops neighbourhood.
Those wishing to move in must be OK with hungry Wolves and hardwood floors.
Animated TRU WolfPack women’s basketball head coach Goran Nogic, from Belgrade, Serbia, has wooed his first international recruit, 17-year-old Danijela Kovačević, a 5-foot-7 point guard who toils for Partizan, a club team in Belgrade.
“She is actually ready to play in U Sport level and make a difference here,” said second-year bench boss Nogic, noting his quarterback of the future is expected to arrive in time for the 2021-2022 season.
“That is much more important than if she is Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian or whatever. I don’t choose the players because they are Serbian, Ukrainian, Spanish or French or Canadian, East Coast or West Coast. That really is not the principle criteria.”
Nogic makes his point — she was signed based on merit, not area code — but her non-Canadian status is notable.
U Sports basketball squads are allowed a maximum of three athletes who are not Canadian citizens or do not have permanent-resident status in the Great White North.
Audrey Rankin, an Upper Marlboro, Md., product who toiled for TRU in 2016-2017, is the only international player in WolfPack women’s basketball history.
Prior to Nogic’s arrival, the program was 104-189 and had been eliminated in Round 1 in each of its five post-season appearances.
TRU athletics and recreation director Curtis Atkinson hired Nogic in part because of his recruiting connections, both in North America and overseas.
Nogic’s first international splash might be his most important, a point guard to mould his team around for the next five years.
Grittiness, athleticism, unselfishness, two-way play, character and a fighting attitude are among the ballyhooed recruit’s assets, according to a TRU WolfPack press release.
“I am sure that we will work hard and fight with all our strength, which will lead us to be one of the best teams,” Kovačević said in the release.
The plan is for Kovačević to learn next season alongside Jordon Haggerty, who will exhaust her playing eligibility after the 2021-2022 campaign and pass the reins to the Serbian succession plan.
(Haggerty will not lose a year of eligibility this season if the pandemic leads to the cancellation of the U Sports Women’s Basketball Championship).
Kovačević, who has aspirations to play for the Serbian national team, might not have ended up in Kamloops if not for the virus crisis and civil unrest in the United States, according to the Pack’s head coach.
“When someone is sending their daughter from Europe to go 5,000 kilometres, a very important part for them is safety,” said Nogic, whose WolfPack posted a 7-13 record and were eliminated in Round 1 of the playoffs last season. “For most of the players from Europe, before this year, the first option always was the States, but now there is more advantage to playing in Canada.”
Opinions are also changing on the gap in the superior level of university competition in the U.S. in comparison with Canada, Nogic said.
“At this moment, that difference is not so big as earlier,” he said.
Nogic heard Kovačević may be interested in coming to North America, so he picked up the recruiting intensity and talks began.
The dialogue was in their native tongue, which didn’t hurt TRU’s chances, and familiarity with Nogic will be of comfort to the family while Kovačević, a few months removed from high school, settles into a new neighbourhood, Little Serbia, next summer.
“Lifestyle, coaching they can expect and also safety is, for sure, a very important part of their decision,” Nogic said. “I choose her because I believe she can make a difference right from the beginning.”