Friday, November 30, 2001
Spajic ready toPICK virtually any category on a basketball statistics sheet. Hawaii Pacific's Nick Spajic is a player who can fill it up.
take the lead
for Sea Warriors
The HPU captain is rebounding
from an ankle injury
By Brandon Lee
The 6-foot-4 senior swingman from Las Vegas is not the most athletic Sea Warrior, nor the purest scorer. Teammates Alvin Stephenson and Nash Subotic wear those shoes.
Spajic, in his second season with HPU, is the Sea Warriors' best all-around player. He can score, rebound, distribute the ball and defend -- and he can do them all well.
Whether Spajic uses a particular skill or his full arsenal a little or a lot depends on what the team needs.
"We're a better team whenever Nick is on the court," HPU coach Tony Sellitto said. "Everything runs smoother for us when he's out there."
Yet even Sellitto admitted that he did not realize the quality of player he had when he first recruited Spajic, now 22, out of Hartnell (Calif.) Community College. Sure Spajic came to HPU with solid statistics and accolades -- so do most of Sellitto's two-year recruits.
But Spajic arrived better than advertised. He started every game for the Sea Warriors last season, led the team in scoring (18.3 ppg) and rebounding (6.2 rpg), and was just four thefts (43) shy of the team lead in steals and third in assists (79).
Making his shots count when he took them, Spajic had a field-goal percentage of 59 percent -- best for a guard in school history -- and he hit nearly half (43 percent) of his 3-pointers as well. He was the only underclassman to receive All-Pacific West Conference Pacific Division honors (second team), and he entered this season as the conference's top returning scorer.
Still, Spajic expresses more concern for his role as team co-captain (with John Avilla) this year than for padding his statistics.
"I try to be a leader," Spajic said. "I think everything else comes naturally. I try to get everybody organized, keep things in order."
That was more difficult for Spajic than he expected to start this season, however, after he sprained an ankle in practice Sept. 11, the day before HPU's exhibition opener. Spajic was completely inactive for nearly two weeks, missing both of the Sea Warriors' exhibition contests and the season-opening victory over No. 21 Nebraska-Kearney.
"It's my first injury in college and I was pissed," Spajic said. "I never missed a game in college before. It was very frustrating, but (sitting out) I saw a lot of stuff I don't notice when I'm playing. I guess it kind of helped in a way."
From a guy whose pre-injury court vision allowed him to torch opponents in so many ways already, this is scary news for HPU opponents. And after his performance against Division I competition in last weekend's HPU Thanksgiving Classic -- his first action since the injury -- it may also be fair warning.
Sporting a freshly shaved head and new tattoos on each shoulder, Spajic played tentatively as he tried to regain his conditioning and rhythm in the Sea Warriors' first two games -- a loss to Notre Dame and a win over Liberty. But in the tournament consolation final, he exploded for 26 points, including six treys, in nearly leading HPU to an upset of Hampton, a team that upended North Carolina earlier this year.
"I felt awkward out there, out of sync at first," Spajic said. "I just told myself to be aggressive (against Hampton). As long as I'm aggressive, I'm OK."
Resuming Division II competition yesterday, the Sea Warriors (3-2) downed St. Martin's (Wash.) 65-61 with 12 points from Spajic. HPU plays at Seattle Pacific tomorrow before returning home to prepare for Montana State-Northern in two weeks. The PacWest season begins for the Sea Warriors on Jan. 7, when they host Brigham Young-Hawaii.
Typical of a leader, Spajic hasn't let HPU's early success go to his head. He knows that a potential conference title and postseason berth are a long way ahead and never guarantees.
"Sure we know we can play now," Spajic said. "We're pretty good at home, but the key for us is we have to do well on the road."
And whether it takes him connecting on a bomb from beyond the arc or assisting on one, securing a steal or a rebound, it's a safe bet that Spajic is going to do whatever it takes in trying to keep HPU on course.