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Pac-10 is a home away from home for Serbians


COUGARS

We have a short feature for you on the Simpsons-handful of Serbians in the Pac-10, all named Nikola. We talked with WSU’s, sixth-man Nik Koprivica. Read on.

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• Here’s the story …

LOS ANGELES – College basketball road trips can include strange arenas, strange beds, strange places … and friendly faces.

You see it before games. Former teammates, friends, long-time adversaries are on the court visiting, talking, basically just catching up.

Washington State University’s Nik Koprivica has taken this to another country, if you will.

When he travels up and down the West Coast for Pac-10 games, the native of Serbia seems to have someone from home to connect with in nearly every town.

And they’re all named Nikola.

“Everybody asks me, ‘is every guy in Serbia named Nikola?’ ” said WSU’s Nikola Koprivica, laughing. “It’s just a coincidence there’s four of them in the Pac-10. … It’s like pure coincidence, but it’s funny.”

Speaking of funny …

“Last year we were at the Pac-10 tournament,” Koprivica said, “so we had a little Serbian reunion. We had USC, UCLA, Cal and Wazzu. We set down together. One of the UCLA coaches walked by and he goes, ‘Nikola.’ And fur of us turned around.”

The names may be coincidental, but their meetings aren’t.

“We first talk about family,” Koprivica said. “We don’t even talk about the game. It’s more a little recap. It’s just good to see each other.

“It’s really cool to get somebody who can talk your language.”

That’s not a figurative statement.

“As much as I know English,” Koprivica said, “I’ll never know English like I know Serbian. There’s slang, some jokes, all those things. It just kind of feels like home.”

Today, Koprivica will match up often with the conference’s other Nikola he’s known the longest, Dragovic. Or, as he’s known around the Pac-10, the Dragon.

Dragovic, like Nikola Knesevic of Cal, is a senior. He’s also one of UCLA’s leading outside threats, having poured in 23 points last year in WSU’s historic – the second win in Pauley Pavilion - 82-81 victory.

“I’ve played against him since I was little,” Koprivica said. “It’s always fun to get on the court against each other.”

So far on the trip, Koprivica is 1-0 against his friends from back home, having scored 13 points to help WSU rally past USC and sophomore Nikola Vucevic, 67-60, Thursday. It raised WSU’s record to 14-5, 4-3 in the Pac-10. UCLA, which upset Washington 62-61 on Mustafa Abdul-Hamid’s jumper as time expired. The Bruins are 8-10, 3-3.

“Last night was fun,” Koprivica said Friday, “and I think (today) will be even more fun.”

•••

• That’s it for now. We’ll be back tomorrow. Until then …


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