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Star-Bulletin Sports


Friday, December 14, 2001


[UH BASKETBALL]



art
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii's Predrag Savovic, who had to sit out Hawaii's first seven games this season, was cleared by the NCAA and returns today against San Diego State. Hawaii coach Riley Wallace calls Savovic his "Energizer Bunny."




Savo’s Back

But last season's leading
scorer has more on his mind
than basketball

Game info / Lineups


By Cindy Luis
cluis@starbulletin.com

Predrag Savovic is playing another waiting game, this one as critical to his future as the 40 days it took to hear from the NCAA regarding his eligibility status.

It's going to be another four weeks before Savovic learns his academic fate. Did he pass the LSAT and will his score be good enough to get into the Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii?

"I would love to become a lawyer," said the senior guard for the Rainbow basketball team. "I would be interested in some kind of international business law.

"And I would love to stay in Hawaii, too. From the beginning, the people have been so welcoming. I love the people here."

Basketball fans will get a chance to rekindle their love affair with the 25-year-old known as "Savo" beginning with tonight's game against a tough San Diego State team. The 6-foot-6 Yugoslavian national has missed the first seven games of Hawaii's season while the NCAA ruled on his participation in a pro league overseas.

Not one to dwell on the past, Savovic is more than ready to be back in Hawaii's starting lineup.

"It has been a long wait and I'm glad I now have a chance to play," said the Rainbows' leading scorer from last season. "I'm excited about playing again.

"It was difficult sitting on the bench. It was easier because we were winning and I'm happy about that."

Hawaii has opened the year 6-1 against less-than-stellar competition. The Rainbows have missed Savovic's 17.6-point scoring average, his ability to create offense and his quickness on defense.

He's a presence on the court on both ends. He can take over a game at any time, with his inside drives and his outside shooting, and his passing when the defense collapses on him.

His teammates idolize him.

"He's going to bring a lot of energy, a lot of desire and he's hungry because he hasn't played in a while," said senior guard Mike McIntyre, who was a freshman during Savovic's redshirt season. "He's aggressive and he's unselfish.

"It will be great to have him back and we can be a whole team again."

"It's been me and him against each other every day in practice," said sophomore Carl English. "We battle every day, come out of it bleeding. I've learned a lot from him and we work well together.

"The best thing is the energy he brings."

Hawaii coach Riley Wallace calls him his "Energizer Bunny." There's a controlled chaos to Savovic's style, a sort of reckless abandon that would suit someone who's favorite outdoor hobby is cliff-diving.

"How do you explain Savo?," Wallace asked rhetorically. "He is very, very special. He does everything 110 percent. I don't know how he fits everything in just 24 hours a day, but he does. He takes a tough course load, he has a job, he has tons of friends.

"What you really like as a coach is that nothing that he does off the court affects what he does when he's on the floor. He's worked his tail off to stay in shape and worked hard in practice, just like he was eligible. He's so tough to guard because of his size and his strength. In practice, our guys don't like to guard him."

Last season, Savovic was named to the All-Western Athletic Conference teams as a player and a student. The business major has a 3.25 grade point average and is enrolled in two finance courses, and one each in economics and English.

He also has a part-time job, as per NCAA limitations on outside income. As a certified concrete test technician for Mid-Pacific Testing and Inspection, he is out in the field, testing soil and concrete.

"He's like an adopted son, my whole family just loves him," said Mid-Pacific president Wally Merriman, who hired Savovic after he arrived in Hawaii four years ago. "He's got complete control of himself, has the intelligence and the wisdom to use that intelligence.

"I never went to a UH game before I met Savo and now we're there all the time. He could some day be president of Yugoslavia."

A return to his homeland to work is unlikely. He went home to Herceg Novi last summer to see his parents, who survived NATO's bombing of their town in 1999.

"My mom visited last season and I hope my dad will come out, maybe in February," said Savovic. "They're doing OK. I talk to my mom every week.

"The situation economically is still bad there. I don't think I can go back and work there, the opportunities are so limited."

The opportunity to play basketball in America was something he considers a gift. Savovic began his career at Alabama-Birmingham, where he was starting for the Blazers until an ankle injury sidelined him.

After getting little playing time after returning from rehab, he decided to transfer. The original plan was to go to St. John's and be with his younger brother, Slobodan.

Slobodan ended up at Ohio State, where, as a freshman, he and the Buckeyes advanced to the Final Four. Predrag ended up at a summer basketball camp and was spotted by Wallace. Coincidentally, Scott Rigot, who had recruited Savovic out of Yugoslavia as an assistant at UAB, is now a Rainbow assistant.

"It's obvious why you'd want him," said Rigot. "He's a good player. It's still hard to believe we ended up in the same place. When he told me he was going to Hawaii, I was very happy for him.

"I didn't know the coaches at Hawaii when that happened. Never in a million, trillion years did I imagine that, a year later, I'd be here with him."

Savovic said he didn't even know where Hawaii was but knew the Rainbows needed a guard ... badly.

"I came out and liked the coaches, the people and the weather," said Savovic, who had developed a special liking for orange chicken from Panda Express. "I like the beach, too. I tried surfing once and I almost got drowned.

"It's the best decision I could have made. It's been so good for me."

And he's been so good for the Rainbows. Savovic has started every game in the previous two seasons, scoring 907 points; he needs just 93 points to become the ninth player in UH history to reach the 1,000-point mark.

He's also fifth on the career 3-point goal list with 103. Alika Smith holds the record at 161.

Savovic is possibly the best all-around athlete on the squad, with a background in swimming, water polo and track and field. He runs the mile in a team-best 5:02.

"I don't know why I stayed with basketball," he said. "It's been like that since I was 13."

Over the summer, Savovic worked on his flexibility and stretching.

"I think I understand the game better now," he said. "I needed to work on my finishing ability and we'll see how it goes.

"I just want to win as many games as I can this year, try to get to the NCAAs and maybe advance. I still don't know good we are. It's how good we are in March that is important."


|


Hawaii vs. San Diego State

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Stan Sheriff Center

TV: Live, KFVE-TV

Radio: Live, 1420-AM

Internet: www.uhathletics.hawaii.edu/Sportslive/listen.html

Tickets:

Lower level$14

Adults (upper)$10

UH students$7

Super Rooter$8

Parking$3


|

Starting Lineups

RAINBOWS (6-1)



Ht.Pts.Reb.Ast.

GCarl English (So.)6-5 17.75.4 3.0

GMark Campbell (Jr.)6-43.63.1 6.1

GPredrag Savovic(Sr.)6-60.00.00.0

FPhil Martin (So.)6-8 10.63.70.9

CHaim Shimonovich(So.)6-1010.47.52.1

AZTECS (5-3)



Ht.Pts.Reb.Ast.

GTony Bland (Jr.)6-5 20.12.8 5.0

GAl Faux (Sr.)6-2 20.2 4.8 2.8

FBrandon Smith (Sr.)6-74.71.32.7

FRandy Holcomb (Sr.)6-9 16.08.9 1.6

CMike Mackell(Jr.)6-9 10.65.00.7

Notes: This is the 45th meeting between the two former WAC rivals. Hawaii leads the series 27-17, with a 16-6 edge in games played in Honolulu. ... The Rainbows are coming off a 62-48 win over Alcorn State on Monday, their first contest in 12 days. The Aztecs defeated a Top 25 team for the first time in 29 games when stunning No. 21 Fresno State 93-78 last Saturday. ... During the 1998-99 season, the Aztecs' last in the WAC, each team won on their home court. Hawaii emerged an 87-67 victor at the Stan Sheriff Center and SDSU won 78-72 at Cox Arena. ... Hawaii senior guard Mike McIntyre will be in uniform after missing Monday's game against Alcorn State with a bruised thigh muscle. Freshman Tony Akpan is still waiting on clearance from the NCAA and freshman Milos Zivanovic remains sidelined with flu-like symptoms. ... The Aztecs have won as many games this season as they did in all of 1999-2000. They were 5-23 in Coach Steve Fisher's first year ... SDSU ranks 22nd nationally in field goal percentage at 49.1 percent. Hawaii's opponents have averaged 39.1 percent from the floor.



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