April 19, 2012
The University of Montana signed junior college post man Marko Kovacevic to a National Letter of Intent today (Thursday, April 19), announced seventh-year Grizzly basketball head coach Wayne Tinkle.
Kovacevic (pronounced: koe-vah-suh-vich), a 6-foot-11, 230-pound standout center, has played at Western Nebraska Community College the past two seasons. A native of Beograd, Serbia, he averaged 11.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game as a sophomore in 2011-12. He was a very proficient scorer as well last season, shooting 66% (131-of-199) from the field.
"We are excited about the addition of Marko to our program," Tinkle said. "He's a quality person, first and foremost. He came to our country two years ago without speaking a lick of English, and he has progressed in that area and is a great student, very disciplined, and a player of high character.
"We really think he's going to provide some back-to-the-basket scoring for us," Tinkle said. "He's very skilled. He can use either hand very effectively to finish around the basket. He's also a really, really talented passer. He has surprising length and athleticism, and we just feel that adding a big guy of his caliber to what we have coming back could really prove to be a huge factor for us next season.
Kovacevic grabbed a season high 15 rebounds against the College of Southern Idaho, and scored a season-high 21 points in games against North Platte Community College and Lamar Community College.
"When I went to visit Montana I was really surprised at the school because the players played really hard and I fit in," Kovacevic said in a press release posted on his junior college's web site. "They are a team that can make me better. I didn't think about playing at the Division I (level) at all when I came over here; I came over here to play at WNCC and at a junior college."
Kovacevic has worked hard to get an opportunity to play at the Division I level, and he will be missed, said third-year WNCC head coach Russ Beck.
"He's going to be very hard for us to replace as a person and as a player," Beck said via a phone interview Thursday afternoon. "He came into us as a 6-11, 180-pound kid from Serbia, and he's leaving us at 6-11, 230 pounds two years later. Physically he's made some changes, and he's always been very skilled and very talented. He's a hard worker. He helped us to 44 wins in the last two seasons, and to a 26-win season this year, and he was a key component to that success.
"I think Marko could be a better Division 1 player than he was in junior college," Beck said. "There are two parts to that; one is because the match-ups will be better on any given night, and the other part to that is that he picked the perfect place in terms of being a big man and playing for Coach Tinkle. You know that he's going to get developed, and he's going to get worked with, because he has a big man for a coach. He's (Tinkle) going to take all of the things he learned when he played professionally, plus the skills that he learned as a player at Montana, and try to pass that on to Marko."
This past season Kovacevic helped the Cougars to a 26-7 record and a berth in the semifinals of the Region IX tournament, in a game in which the Cougars were upset 70-68 by Casper College.
"That was a heart-breaker," Beck said. "We felt like this was a team that could get to the national tournament, and if we could have got there we felt like we could compete for the national title. Now that it's been a few weeks since that occurred, it's given us some perspective, and it was definitely a great year and a step in the right direction for our program."
Kovacevic was also being recruited by Division I schools such as BYU, Memphis, Stephen F. Austin, Texas Tech, Washington State, and Utah. Beck said he expected all five starters from his team this past season to sign scholarships to play at the Division 1 level.
"It was a great recruiting process with him, and the coaching staff at Western Nebraska did a great job in giving Marko tons of options, and we are looking forward to carrying over where they left off," Tinkle said.
Montana returns three starters from a team that finished 25-7 overall and 15-1 in the Big Sky Conference last season before losing in the opening round of the NCAA tournament to Wisconsin.
Tinkle said that UM has one scholarship remaining, "and we hope to maybe sign an additional player in the coming weeks."
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