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A Street Cruiser Turns Court Bruiser : Skateboarder Finds Basketball Bearings

January 05, 1989|SAM FARMER and BETSY BALSLEY | Times Staff Writer

Paul Matijasevic didn't fit the bill as a skate rat.

At 6 feet, 5 inches, Matijasevic towered over his boarding buddies. His skateboard resembled an emery board under his size-15 sneakers. He didn't even like the pounding, discordant strains of the "thrash rock" that pulsed from his friends' oversized boom boxes.

Still, one glance at Matijasevic's freshman report card at Crescenta Valley High proved that he was spending far more time cruising the La Crescenta pavement than pounding the books.

"After school I would just take the board and go," said Matijasevic, who posted a 1.0 grade-point average his first semester. "My parents would ground me and take my board away but I would end up buying a new one. It was a big quarrel."

Matijasevic's favorite game was to lie supine on his board and barrel down a steep street in a position aptly dubbed "the coffin." Two years ago, he says, a friend followed in a car and proudly informed him that the 6-5 inch missile was traveling at 50 m.p.h.

One neighbor, John Goffredo, saw more than a gangly, apathetic kid in Matijasevic. Goffredo, boys' basketball coach at Crescenta Valley, saw a project.

Today, Matijasevic is 2 inches taller and his grade-point average is 2 full points higher. The junior laughs about the times when his distaste for school was rivaled only by his disdain for a haircut.

And although Matijasevic's skills on the hardwood are not as practiced as his moves on a plywood skateboard, he has earned a position as a starting forward for the Falcon varsity. He averages 11 points and 10 rebounds a game and recently was named to the all-tournament team at the Eldorado tournament.

Basketball, however, was not an instant panacea for Matijasevic. In fact, he almost quit his freshman season.

"He didn't care for the discipline," Goffredo said. "Now he realizes the end product. Nobody likes to be yelled at, chewed on or pushed, but he understands."

Matijasevic, who stood 6-4 as a seventh-grader, was lumbering up a hill--skateboard in hand--when he had his first encounter with Goffredo. The coach asked him if he spent much time on the court, or was planning to do so. In an attempt to stave off Goffredo's interest, Matijasevic said that he planned to attend St. Francis High and did not intend to play basketball.

The coach did not push the issue.

"I knew I had to hook him first," he said. "I had to get him to like the sport."

Matijasevic said that he enrolled at Crescenta Valley because his grades were too low for St. Francis. Matijasevic cannot pinpoint a reason why, but he decided to try out for the Falcons' summer league team.

Goffredo was eager to get Matijasevic on his varsity squad, but he knew the youngster would need time to develop into an impact player.

He was right. Matijasevic wallowed through his freshman season with the zeal of a garden slug. He played his sophomore year, too, with minimal emotion and effort.

Matijasevic says that his laziness was attributable to the size disparity between himself and smaller players.

"I felt like such a dominator," he said. But true domination was a long way off.

Last spring, however, expecting to be bumped up to varsity, he approached the sport with a new dedication. He got up at 6 each weekday morning and worked out alone at the school gym.

Matijasevic was still second string when Crescenta Valley played South Pasadena in a summer league game. Goffredo started the second unit and promised not to pull the players unless they were overwhelmed. The second stringers did not falter and Matijasevic has been a starter ever since.

Matijasevic has not climbed into the coffin lately, but he hasn't renounced his wild past, either. In fact, he says the coordination he developed skateboarding has benefitted him on the court.

"I used to do tricks like flipping the board up and grabbing it--little nicky-nacky tricks--but it really helped," Matijasevic said.

Now, Matijasevic is hoping to help Crescenta Valley contend for a league championship.

"He used to have long hair and hide behind it and now he's got something to offer," Goffredo said. "The kid did a 180 (degree turn) because of basketball and I'm proud of that."

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