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Naumovic Learning the American Way

October 20, 1998|LON EUBANKS

A foreign student on an American college campus normally faces challenges and adjustments.

For Kristina Naumovic, they've been magnified this fall at Cal State Fullerton.

Naumovic, a guard, is trying to earn her spot on the Titan women's basketball team and get settled in the classroom.

But Naumovic also has been worried about the international crisis in her native Yugoslavia.

"It's really been difficult for me," she said of the recent threat of NATO airstrikes on Yugoslavia because of Serbian attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Her parents and a brother live in Belgrade.

"I was crying a lot for a while, and I was depressed," Naumovic said. "I was concerned about my family and friends. But now I hope everything is going to be all right."

The crisis appeared to be defused last week with an agreement to pursue a political solution to the fighting in Kosovo. Naumovic's outlook has brightened, and she's pleased that she can now focus more of her attention on basketball.

Titan assistant coach Milica Vukadinovic, who came to the U.S. from Yugoslavia in 1992 to play at California, recruited Naumovic this summer after joining Coach Denise Curry's staff.

Curry, who played professional basketball in Europe, recruited Vukadinovic when she was an assistant at Cal. Vukadinovic went on to outstanding career there--she still ranks second in career scoring average--and then played professionally in Germany for four seasons. She signed with the Charlotte Sting in the WNBA in 1997 but played only one game because of a back problem.

Vukadinovic hopes Naumovic will follow in her footsteps with a good college career.

"I think it might still be too early to judge her potential," Vukadinovic said. "She needs to understand that the game is a lot more aggressive here, and a lot more intense. We'll need to work with her, so she knows what to expect."

Naumovic has played the last two years on a club team in Belgrade.

"It was a First Division league, and that's somewhat comparable to college basketball over here," Curry said. "She's had some experiences with international competition that most of our college players haven't had."

Despite being a freshman academically, Naumovic will have only two years of eligibility because she is 23. According to the NCAA rule, every year of age over 21 counts as a year of eligibility, Curry said.

Vukadinovic says she appreciates the adjustments Naumovic is having to make, based on her experiences at Cal.

"There are a lot of cultural differences here, and it takes time to adjust for them," she said. "I hope my being on the staff will help Kristina. She calls me all the time, and I want to be there for her because I know what she's been going through."


Does the arrival of Vukadinovic and Naumovic mean more foreign players will follow?

"We had quite a few foreign players when I was at Cal, and I still have contacts there from when I played in Europe," Curry said. "Milica also has a lot of contacts over there after growing up in Yugoslavia and then playing for several years in Germany.

"If we think a European player can be successful here, we'll consider her, but my first priority is to recruit American players. We want to build this program with Orange County and Southern California kids, which will help us build a local following for our program."


Two guards on the men's basketball team--Kenroy Jarrett and Mark Murphy--started practice Saturday with fractured bones in their left hands, but Coach Bob Hawking expects both players to be ready for the season opener Nov. 16 at Kansas State.

"They're both practicing with us now, but they can't do everything the other players do at this point," Hawking said. "Both were hurt playing in pickup games."

Hawking said he has no indication how long the players will have casts on their non-shooting hands.

Jarrett is the leading candidate to replace Chris St. Clair at point guard. Murphy, a transfer from Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, also is expected to be a top candidate at the off-guard spot where Chris Dade was the starter last season.

The Titans play the first of two exhibition games Nov. 3 against High Five America.

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