LOS ANGELES – Road trips can include strange arenas, strange beds, strange places and friendly faces.
College basketball is no different.
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 Nikola 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 in nearly every town.
And they’re all named Nikola.
“Everybody asks me, ‘Is every guy in Serbia named Nikola?’ ” said 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, so we had a little Serbian reunion,” Koprivica said. “We had USC, UCLA, Cal and Wazzu. We set down together. One of the UCLA coaches walked by and he goes, ‘Nikola.’ And four 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, I’ll never know English like I know Serbian,” Koprivica said. “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 California, 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 Cougars’ second win at 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 Thursday to help WSU rally past USC and sophomore Nikola Vucevic 67-60. It raised WSU’s record to 14-5, 4-3 in the Pac-10.
UCLA upset Washington 62-61 on Mustafa Abdul-Hamid’s jumper as time expired. The Bruins are 8-10, 3-3.
“Last night was fun, and I think (today) will be even more fun,” Koprivica said.