Coming to America

By Andrew Schraedly,
Ohio State Athletics Communications

There are many challenges that a student has to overcome when they are first adjusting to college life. Living on your own, being responsible for your own well-being and balancing school and life can be daunting for some. For Nikola Kecman, however, that has been the easy part. The hard part has been integrating himself into a foreign country and playing an entirely different style of basketball from the game he grew up playing.

Kecman emigrated from his native Serbia to the United States during the summer of 2007 after receiving a scholarship offer from Eastern Arizona. In just one season with the Gila Monsters, Kecman made a big impact, averaging 13.8 points per game while leading Eastern Arizona to its first NJCAA tournament appearance since 1995. But it was not until Ohio State head coach Thad Matta came calling that Kecman knew he was ready for something bigger.

“Eastern Arizona was good for me because it allowed me to play my style of basketball,” Kecman said. “But when I came to Columbus and saw Ohio State, I knew this was the place for me.”

The transition from Thatcher, Ariz., where Eastern Arizona is located, to Columbus has been a positive one for Kecman, who is accustomed to life in the big city.

“Eastern Arizona was a small place with only about 10,000 people at the school,” Kecman said. “There were a few restaurants and not much else to do. I’m from Belgrade, which has about 2 million people, so I’m definitely more comfortable living in a big city.”

Like most college students, staying connected to friends and family back home has been a priority for Kecman. But when your hometown is nearly 5,000 miles away, visits for a home-cooked meal are few and far between.

“The last time I was in Serbia was in June after I finished at Eastern Arizona,” Kecman said. “I talk to my parents a few times a week on the phone, so I’m able to stay connected. It’s nice to be able to keep up with things going on at home.”

The one constant in Kecman’s life basketball has been the key to making the cultural switch from Serbia to America.

“Basketball has definitely helped my transition to American life,” Kecman said. “I’ve made friends on the team and the coaches have been great. It’s been great so far here at Ohio State.”

But the style of basketball played in Serbia and the United States could not be more different. European-style basketball is characterized by smoother, more finesse play, while American basketball is a contact sport where power and speed reign supreme. Kecman knows that in order to succeed at Ohio State, he must adopt an American style of play while not forgetting the skills he learned growing up.

“Practicing against B.J. (Mullens) and Dallas (Lauderdale) has been great in helping me learn how to attack American-style centers,” Kecman said. “They are very physical and they always seem to be altering or blocking shots. It’s a good way for me to adjust to the different style.”

But going against players in practice can only satisfy Kecman somewhat. That is why it is so frustrating for him now. He served a 12-game suspension to open the season because of his participation on a Serbian team where other players (not Kecman) were given benefits not allowed by NCAA rule.

His first appearance of the season came against Houston Baptist, where he scored six points in 11 minutes of play. But his first appearance would also be his last, as he blew out his knee during practice the following week and will miss the remainder of the season. Still, he remains optimistic.

“There is nothing I can do about it, so I just learn by watching and learning what I can do to help the team,” Kecman said. “I try looking at it as a positive.”

If his past actions are any indication of how he handles challenges, then Kecman should be just fine.