Author: Stefan Stojacic
Idea: Sina Şen, TrendBasket
Whenever I start writing an article, I have a dilemma about how long it should be, how to give the whole picture of what I am trying to say without making it too long. When it comes to write about myself, I think it can’t be done. In a couple of years, maybe I will decide to write down everything I have been through and why some facts about me, like the number of university diplomas I have acquired or some strange decisions I have made, are not as crazy as they may seem at first.
Personally, if I heard that somebody has three university diplomas, I would think of them as being crazy, not smart, at very least. But the circumstances had led me to it. It all had been just an escape from reality – I had always been giving out the impression that I wasn’t that interested in basketball, but it wasn’t true, it was just my way to avoid losing. I was acting cool, playing it smooth, but that was all just a mask. I was afraid to give my best, put everything else aside and face the competition straightforwardly. I couldn’t accept the fact that somebody else was better than me. Ego is an unbelievable thing.
My whole life has been intertwined with dilemmas and paths that have been “odd” at very least. At the age of 23, I decided to quit playing basketball and study electrical engineering, namely mechatronics. At the age of 27, while studying, I came back to help KK Vojvodina basketball club to acquire the status of a first-division team after 20 years. We achieved it, with me being named the Second Division MVP. My basketball story picked up from there.
As a child, I loved playing chess, it was my first profession. At the age of 8, I won the third place in the European Chess Championship in Timisoara and stopped playing chess when I was 11. It was my first escape after I had felt I was getting competition. There was also my parents’ influence, who didn’t want their child to be a chess player, but somewhere deep inside I know I quit when I realized I had started losing.
In junior categories, I was physically quite dominant compared to my peers. I was always the team leader, achieving unbelievable statistics, but it’s only now that I realize how counterproductive that is for a young player.
It’s easy to play when you are the best, but it’s a problem to learn how to play whey you aren’t and to give your contribution.
In 2007, I had a dilemma whether to choose basketball or university studies. I wasn’t accepted to a prestige American university because of my grades, which was absurd, considering I had always been a very good student. After the first year at a grammar school, studying mathematics, I had been offered to transfer to Partizan. After deciding to attend High School of Economics part-time, I graduated within 2 years instead of 3, without exceptional grades. I had just wanted to graduate as soon as possible, which was the reason why the American university turned me down.
Still, that summer of 2007 was pointing to basketball as being my true calling. In front of a full hall at SPENS Sports Center in Novi Sad, Serbia won the Under-19 World Championship by defeating the favored American national team led by Stephen Curry. Curry and I had a duel. I remember committing a pretty rough foul on him, but it wasn’t an unsportsmanlike one, we were playing to win. That turned out to be the ideal strategy that led Stephen to score only 5 points in the final game, while I scored 14 points and two three-pointers in his recognizable style, from his usual distance, in extremely important moments of the match.
I played one of the best matches of my career, while he played one of his worst and Serbian team were celebrating in the end. That’s where the whole story of my accomplishment started.
That same summer, Milan Mačvan, Dušan Katnić and me, all being one year younger than the team that played in Novi Sad, won the European Basketball Championship in Madrid.
I could chronologically list all of my successes and failures during my professional career, including winning another gold medal in the European Championship in Riga, a hugely successful season in BC Mega basketball club, coming as second among best scorers of the first division at the age of 19 and playing in BC Red Star and BC Radnicki Adriatic league. However, I would describe all of that as being a part of a searching quest.
After winning the medal and an incredible season in BC Mega, stories and fantasies about my career started to spread out. I was probably too young and easily persuaded, but I believed in them, too, as if it had all been already done, as if it was something that belonged to me without a question.
I was chosen the team captain of the under-20 national Serbian team, Milan Mačvan was invited to the university national team, while Dušan Katnić got injured. That national team consisted of players that would turn out to be much better players than me in future (Dragan Milosavljević, Branko Lazić, Vladimir Lučić, Filip Čović, etc.), but all eyes were on me, at least that was what I was imagining.
I also trained less intensively that summer and, of course, we experienced debacle, ending in 11th place. I also experienced concussion on the championship, which was described by others as being staged, so I wouldn’t have to participate in the play-off for 9-16th place.
After grandiose stories about the continuance of my career in some great European club, I stayed in Mega, got injured at the beginning of next season, never to regain the enthusiasm for basketball. The last spark of it was in BC Red Star, where I accepted the position of the defensive player, contributing to the team led by Nemanja Bjelica. I played a notable role and had a significant playing time, but the club was slowly shutting down. After my manager Miodrag Ražnatović had wanted me to continue my career in, so to say, “weakened” Red Star, while I had wanted to transfer to Radnicki, we ended our cooperation. It would turn out to be a bad choice for me; I was angry at him at the time, but now, when I have started doing a bit of business, I understand that I would do the same thing if I had been in his place. We, players, are the goods to them, a means of earning money – provided we are something that can be sold, they are interested in us, there is no room for sentiment in big business.
I didn’t use the opportunity I had at Radnicki. Predrag Miletić, an anonymous player back then, was playing in my position and objectively was a better player than me, especially during that season. Instead of fighting back, fighting harder, I decided to run away – I sat at my desk and passed my remaining exams at two private universities simultaneously, Singidunum – Finances and Banking, and Law at the University Business Academy in Novi Sad. Along with that, I furiously played the piano, wanting to become a pianist. It was a complete madness because I was earning big money from the club and was one step away from a new chance, but I simply didn’t want to accept it – I didn’t even train properly, I was doing a sloppy job of it. I believed everything was against me, believed in conspiracy theories. Whether there were any or not, in the end, I didn’t give my best. If I only had engaged in playing basketball as much as I had been playing the piano, maybe it would have turned out to be a completely different story.
After Radnicki, I continued my career at BC Vojvodina Novi Sad. I had an agreement with the coach not to be disturbed in the afternoon, while I would do what was needed on the court and that was it. We were first-division champions two years in a row, both times ensuring our participation in ABA League (Adriatic League), which back then wasn’t supported by the city out of political reasons, so the club shut down. Nikola Kalinić, my teammate, joined the national team, while I decided to quit. I talked a lot about how I wasn’t really interested in basketball, which probably annoyed everybody around me, including my teammates and my coach, as I wasn’t playing badly. It seemed better to me to show I could play well, without giving my A-game, instead of playing extremely well, giving my best, and risking it turning out to be not good enough. I started lying to myself, too, and that was really the end.
By then, I had already had two university diplomas on my shelf that didn’t fulfill me; it just wasn’t me.
This is where I could write at least 15 more pages about my contemplations, but I have to make it short. Maybe I will write it someday. Maybe a book.
I enrolled in the Faculty of Technical Sciences, Chair of Mechatronics. I had visited Professor Ilija Kovačević, whom I already knew, to ask him for advice on what to study, as I didn’t have a clue what to do. I hadn’t encountered science for 7 years. I chose mechatronics and robotics by accident; it was a chair that sounded intriguing to me. During the first semester, I didn’t know a thing, I didn’t pass any of the exams, but I didn’t give up. I watched my colleagues and for the first time, I realized what it meant to be living in Serbia. Professional sportspeople start getting money since their early age, money some families can only dream of. Besides that, my parents were wealthy by Serbian standards, so I knew about it even less. For somebody, lunch in the student-cafeteria was expensive, and I had already bought a car by then, not because I needed it but because I wanted girls to like me more. It seems ridiculous and sad at the same time to me now, but that’s how it was.
After facing the reality in Serbia a couple of times, I decided never to show up in my car in front of the Faculty. It just wasn’t decent; I became ashamed of driving such a car. I watched my colleagues fighting to learn the course material, trying to help me when it seemed I was a hopeless case. Most of them gave their best to acquire knowledge, to ensure their livelihood by earning that difficult graduate degree. A lot of them did some extra jobs because their parents couldn’t cover all their expenses, and they still managed to do it.
I told myself that the only thing I could do to earn their respect is to give my best. I had the best conditions for studying, being able to concentrate on just that, so I did that. I studied every day, probably more than others because I had that option. It resulted in passing all the exams in the second semester with flying colors.
I came back to basketball during 2016/2017 season, played a couple of 3×3 tournaments with my friends from the faculty and came back to help BC Vojvodina acquire the status of a first-division team (the true Vojvodina, same name, different club, long story :-)).
In 2017, I graduated as one of the best students at the Faculty, won the State Championship in Robotics, named Second Division MVP and MVP of the overall FIBA 3×3 World Cup, awarded by AP of Vojvodina as the best basketball player of the year and awarded by the city for my contribution to science and sport, and now I am just at the new beggining.
I am working at FESTO, a German company that is a world leader in the area of industrial automatization. Even that good job is secondary to the fact I finally do what I love, where the smallest progress in tech science makes me happy, where I don’t pay attention to who is better than me, I even have the impression I am the worst member of the team.
However, both engineering and science can wait for a little while. Firstly, I want to give my best, to try and go to the Olympics playing 3×3 basketball, that is my second chance and last one for basketball. I don’t care anymore if I will succeed. Instead, I care to give everything I have so I can congratulate myself and tell myself: “You gave your best shot”, even if I don’t fulfill my intention.
I am lucky to be able to do the things I love – to be an engineer, to play the piano from time to time, to play 3×3 basketball. I believe I have never stopped loving 3×3 basketball and regular basketball; I just got so entangled in my own parallel universe of displaying indifference that I had to stop it eventually, which I consider to be my best life decision.
I’m not trying to sound smart, but all the hard work a person makes in their life has to be in order to finally do what they love – that is the only true success.