Illinois basketball fans have had lots of opportunities to read interviews & watch video of Mark Smith and Trent Frazier. People in east central Illinois actually saw Da’Monte Williams play basketball, frequently.
But after Brad Underwood took the big office at Ubben, the Illini suddenly had two freshmen bigs nobody had ever heard of. Greg Eboigbodin has been in America for four years, playing high school ball in Detroit. So there’s at least some documentation of his history, online and in English.
Matic Vesel had been in America exactly one time before he arrived at the start of the fall semester: his Official Visit to Illinois. He’s not a complete unknown. They have the Internet in Ljubljana, his hometown. You can watch a highlight video where he dunks a lot.
Orlando Antigua was coaching the Dominican National team when he discovered Vesel, playing for Slovenia, on the Greek island of Crete. A whirlwind recruitment ensued, and now Matic is an American college student.
He’s a big soccer fan, and an Arsenal supporter “because the Champions League is the best soccer in the world … for now.” But Vesel only played indoor soccer (goalkeeper), and that lasted only a little more than a year. At that point, he had to decide between basketball and …
… wait for it …
Vesel decided to focus his energies on basketball because he realized he was going to be unusually tall. Smart kid.
Adapting to American culture, American food and American college life all during the same month was probably not easy. He seems to enjoy hanging around his freshman teammates, and especially likes the eternal optimism & high-energy of Trent Frazier.
That was September.
Now he’s got a drill sergeant whipping his ass on a daily basis, and it hasn’t been easy. Vesel gets a lot of praise for his offensive skills, but he also hears a lot of flak about defense & deportment (which seems a little unfair considering he’s from an entirely different culture).
It would conceivably be too much, given all the other stressful adjustments he’s had to make over a few short weeks. But Matic recognizes that he’ll have to work “systematically, day-per-day” and make a lot of sacrifices, including “many times you have to say ‘no’ to the people who … you love them. That’s a big decision to make.”
Leaving Slovenia for a corn field might seem like an obvious choice for the those of us who love flat & boring, but it’s got to be hard when you’re accustomed to this:
So if you see Matic around campus, please welcome him and tell him that there’s more here than just soybeans.
Someone could teach him, for example, about good pizza and good Mexican food, both available in Champaign-Urbana. So far he’s had only Pizza Hut and Chipotle.
And thank him for choosing to resurrect your favorite basketball program. Like Damir Krupalija, he’s a young Balkan who’s found himself in middle America, right when Illinois decided to be relevant again.