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COC forward trots the globe

Dalibor Nonkovic has led an interesting life

Posted: January 20, 2014 10:37 p.m.
Updated: January 20, 2014 10:37 p.m.
COC forward Dalibor Nonkovic is originally from modern-day Croatia. He grew up there during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. COC forward Dalibor Nonkovic is originally from modern-day Croatia. He grew up there during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s.
COC forward Dalibor Nonkovic is originally from modern-day Croatia. He grew up there during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s.

Early in his life, there wasn’t much consistency in Dalibor Nonkovic’s life.

He and his family weren’t certain whether they would be safe, where they’d have to live or how they would be able to make ends meet.

But by clinging onto the values and work ethic his parents taught him, Nonkovic has practically circumnavigated the globe using basketball as a vehicle.

And his latest stop on his worldwide journey took him to College of the Canyons, where the 22-year-old Serb has spent the last two years earning his way as a starting forward on the men’s basketball team.

“One thing that I had in the back of my mind was hard work,” Nonkovic says. “I’ve been taught all my life to work hard and I guess that’s the ethic that my parents gave me.”

So far, it’s gotten him pretty far — from war-torn Yugoslavia to Australia to a basketball court in Valencia.

“I think it takes a special kind of person to come half way around the world, leaving your family and friends and everything to try something new and different and I think that speaks to his character,” says COC head basketball coach Howard Fisher. “And I think some of the friendships he’s made at College of the Canyons and Santa Clarita can be directly attributed to some of those things.”

A turbulent start

Nonkovic was born in the town of Benkovac — located in modern-day Croatia — during the heart of the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s.

His family lived mere miles from the front lines, which later forced them to move north to Novi Sad, Serbia.

During that time, Nonkovic’s father was driving a truck for the Serbian armed forces, a highly dangerous job.

“We wouldn’t know if he would come back home, if he would come and see us,” Nonkovic remembers. “We didn’t know. Every time he went, we had to pray for him to come back.”

Up until Nonkovic was 11 years old, times were difficult for his family while living in a country with a struggling economy and political turmoil at the time.

Growing up, he played soccer like a lot of young boys in that part of the world.

He was always tall for his age and always athletic. It was only later in life, when his family moved to Sydney, Australia in 2003 when Nonkovic was introduced to basketball.

Down Under days

Nonkovic, along with his mom, dad and sister moved to Australia in search of more stability.

His parents were dead-set on the idea of their kids seeking higher education and living successful lives.

The living situation and job prospects improved immediately for the family.

Right around that time, Nonkovic was starting high school and was going through a big growth spurt that made him 6-foot-2 by age 15.

Basketball was a perfect fit for him, and he loved it immediately.

“I had the height at that age. I had the height and I was athletic enough,” Nonkovic says. “I had a lot of love for the game. When you like something, it isn’t too hard to work for it I guess.”

In Australia, high schools don’t typically have their own sports teams, so Nonkovic played basketball on a club team for four years.

During the summer, he was able to travel to the U.S. and attend basketball camps in Las Vegas and Hawaii.

While playing in Hawaii, a coach noticed him and referred him to a friend. That friend happened to be Coach Fisher.

Nonkovic made first contact with the COC coach in 2011.

“His size was intriguing, at 6-6,” Fisher says of his first impression of Nonkovic. “But the international game, even though he’s grown up recently in Australia, the international game is different.”

New life in a new world

It was January 2012 when Nonkovic made the moved to the Santa Clarita Valley.

Since it was midseason for basketball, he redshirted that year and tried out for the team the following summer.

In two years, while living in Saugus and riding his bike nearly 11 miles round trip to and from school, he’s gained a lot of respect and praise from coaches.

Nonkovic bulked up, improved his conditioning and adjusted well to the American style of basketball, which he says is more athletic and faster paced.

“He’s gotten a lot more confident and a lot more comfortable,” says teammate David Horst, who has played with him for nearly three years. “Now that his role is to be a leader, it enabled him to grow in other ways other than just working hard. He’s getting other guys to work hard too.”

After playing a small amount last season, Nonkovic is a captain who has started all 16 games for COC this year.

His scoring and rebounding average is 8.8 and 5.7 rebounds per game, respectively, while his grade-point average is 3.7.

He has an offer to play basketball at the University of St. Francis in the Chicago area, and he’s looking into other four-year schools around Southern California.

His parents and sister continue to live in Australia, and Nonkovic only sees them a few months out of the year during the summer.

For what he’s been through, it doesn’t faze him much. Not many things do, which is probably why Horst says of his teammate, “he’s like an older brother to a lot of guys.”

Nonkovic and his athletic skill and easy-to-get-along-with personality are allowing him to achieve the very things his parents hoped he would.

From one side of the Earth to the other, Nonkovic is living out a dream.


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