Thursday, March 25, 1999
By Pat Bigold
To say this is a bittersweet time for Hawaii basketball player Predrag Savovic would be an understatement.
Savovic's younger brother, Slobodan "Boban" Savovic, is a freshman at Ohio State. He's on his way to St. Petersburg, Fla., to play in the Final Four.
Their parents, Nikola and Olivera Savovic, planned to watch 20-year-old Boban on TV from their home near the Adriatic Sea in Herceg Novi, Montenegro.
"I think he will get to the final but I think Duke will win," Predrag Savovic said two days ago.
It was a fairy tale come true for the Serbian family, whose economic fortunes have been hit hard by the Yugoslavian civil war in the past decade.
Newspapers in basketball-savvy Yugoslavia have been publishing stories about Boban, and there was going to be a big Serbian viewing audience for the Ohio State-Connecticut game Saturday.
But when NATO weaponry hit Montenegro yesterday, the dream turned into a nightmare.
"That's amazing, I can't believe it," said 23-year-old Predrag, heaving a deep sigh when told over the phone yesterday the attacks had begun.
Later in the day, he learned that what he dreaded most had happened.
"They hit my hometown," said the rough-and-tumble perimeter sharpshooter recruited from Alabama-Birmingham.
Two days ago, he saw no reason why his parents would be in danger since Kosovo seemed to be the focus of military strategists.
Slobodan "Boban" Savovic will try to put out of his mind
the danger his parents are in and focus on helping the
Buckeyes win the NCAA title.
Sporting stitches above his right eye from playing his blood 'n guts brand of ball out of season ("He always has stitches above his eye," said Boban), he sat with friends in Waipio yesterday. The topic was the day's shocking events in his homeland.
Unshaven, shirtless, clad in surfer shorts, Savovic's piercing blue eyes trained on his interviewer.
"My brother and I have decided it's best we don't talk anymore," he said.
The reason was clear. They fear for their parents' safety.
Particularly off limits for discussion is the politics of the crisis, according to Predrag.
"They cut off the lines," said Boban who tried to call his parents from Ohio yesterday.
"I talked to them Tuesday and they said not to worry about it but still ...," he said, his voice quivering.
Predrag said he spoke to his mother after he learned that the attacks were approved. Asked what she told him, he said, "Nothing - she just said pray to God it's not going to hit us."
He said she was actually laughing at times during the conversation he had with her.
"What else can you do?" reasoned Savovic. "Call Clinton and ask him not to do it?"
Hawaii assistant coach Jackson Wheeler, who indicated he will stay in touch with Savovic throughout the bombing, said he thinks poise amid chaos must be a quality the Serbs inherit.
"That country has lived in instability forever," he said.
"But I feel terrible for Savo's country and I feel terrible for his family."
The brothers were still incredulous that the might of NATO is striking so close to the home where they first went one-on-one with each other on an outdoor court.
"Montenegro wasn't going to be on anybody's side and so they (NATO) said they wouldn't attack Montenegro," said Boban.
He is worried that missiles and bombs meant for military targets will go astray and kill civilians.
Now the brothers, both 6-foot-6 guards, must endure the agony of not knowing if their parents are alive.
And the parents will not know if their son is playing in the NCAA championship.
"There will be no broadcast of the game for them now," said Predrag.
Predrag was hoping his brother could block out the NATO attack and concentrate on the biggest game of his life. But now that Montenegro is under siege, that's difficult.
"I'm trying not to think about it before the game but my family is there." said Boban. "It will be hard. I put my family first in everything."
There are other concerns knawing at the Savovic brothers. They have uncles, aunts, cousins and friends throughout Kosovo.
So, now, with their parents trapped in harm's way, the only thing the brothers can do is commiserate.
But they must console each other via long distance.
Predrag cannot afford to fly to St. Petersburg to reunite with his brother during these best and worst of times.
And NCAA rules prevent him from accepting help from anyone to get there.
He is currently living day to day on next to nothing, sleeping at a friend's home during spring break. Even on his low monthly income, he must pay his friend rent to keep within NCAA guidelines.
Savovic is meticulous about observing the rules. He refuses even to be treated to lunch.
He has not been able to count on his family for much help.
He said his father, a professional scuba diver, made a living that rendered the family wealthy before civil war broke out. But intensified inflation and other factors of war drained his family's financial resources and left them struggling.
Despite the injustice of a situation he accepts as the price of being a NCAA athlete, Predrag said, "I'm alright."
But you know he's hurting. So is Boban.
"I did not see my brother for a year and I didn't see my parents for two years," he said. "I miss them a lot."
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