Basketball: Serb finds hoop heaven

By Anendra Singh

Three questions come to mind when Darko Cohadarevic packs his bag to play basketball anywhere in the world.

Who is the coach?

Who's the point guard?

What country?

And it's always in that order for the 2.06m Serb.

Tab Baldwin, tick. Jarrod Kenny, tick. New Zealand, tick. Bags packed and he arrived in Napier a fortnight ago to become the first European in the history of the Hawke's Bay franchise.

In fact, the Kiwi cultural experience in Napier has left the HBS Bank Hawks' latest import yearning to become a New Zealand resident.

Just the other day someone got knocked off a bike and the presence of three police officers at the scene and the paramedics just blew away Cohadarevic (pronounced cho-ha-dar-evich).

"In Serbia, people will just tell you to get up off the road," says the grinning 27-year-old from Belgrade, whose country's intolerant motorists will honk at anyone crossing a road outside the zebra or traffic lights zone.

Five years of studying and playing in the United States has also confirmed his views on why this country is a great place to settle down with girlfriend Jelena Simic, a professional volleyballer living and working in Macedonia after they met at his Kansas college.

Cohadarevic is convinced the Paora Winitana-captained Hawks have the most talent in the Bartercard National Basketball League (NBL) as they start their campaign against the Manawatu Jets in Palmerston North at 6pm tomorrow.

"Alonzo [Burton] will be an amazing player, JK [Kenny] is the point guard and Paora's leadership is just great and the most important thing, of course, is a great coach, that Tab is."

The NBL is much tougher than he anticipated but he will find a familiar face among the foes tomorrow in Jets coach Mike Kalavros, who was his assistant coach in Athens.

The league in Greece, he says, is great and one of the toughest but he'll never play there again.

"I got tired of being lied to and the payments are not made on time."

The three-month stint here suits him but he has a burning desire to next year play in the Australian National Basketball League (ANBL) where shooting guard Everard Bartlett is a Perth Wildcat.

"That's my dream [playing for the New Zealand Breakers]. I wouldn't even have to think about it."

Cohadarevic is the middle son of artist/painter Nada and wood carving businessman Dzemail who have supported him not only in sport but every facet of life.

His father employed "the best wood carver in Serbia" to manufacture intricate handmade craft.

"I learned how to carve wood from him since I was 12."

But the power forward/centre reveals Serbia doesn't give its inhabitants much.

"Eighty per cent of people are poor or on the borderline.

"Five per cent are rich, which includes politicians, so if you want to be rich then become a politician," says the man who wants to help children, who have potential to become forwards hone their individual skills, once he finishes playing.

His elder brother, Damir, 30, is a software developer who was Serbia's taekwondo champion in 2004.

Younger brother Dalibor, 20, is on a basketball scholarship at Kansas junior college where Cohadarevic studied.

From the age of 4 to 16, Darko Cohadarevic was a soccer goalkeeper.

"I had a three-inch growth so I thought 'Why not play basketball' so I stopped playing soccer," he says, circumspect about what could have happened had he stayed with the beautiful game.

However, hoop heaven offered a great balance of sport and studying in the US and common sense prevailed.

The human development and psychology graduate lauds the American tertiary education system which offers "the perfect set".

"I didn't have to give up basketball to study or give up studying to play basketball. I could do both side by side."

Having had a taste of the pre-season tournament in Porirua where the Hawks finished runners-up to the Nelson Giants, Cohadarevic believes the NBL is in a good space but hard to compare with Europe.

"In Italy, all the contacts we have here will be fouls.

"In Greece, they are physical, too, but they are also more technical."

Cohadarevic thinks players here bring immense raw strength and energy but not as many moves as in Europe.

"Over here you have a couple of guys like rugby players ... they can set up screens and are good at rebounding so it's okay."

The two imports in each team tend to be the slick movers and shakers.

"The foreigners bring a difference but there's only two.

"In Cyprus, they have six imports so their league is better but here the players have a better standard because they have to step up."

Mindful the Paul Henare and Shawn Dennis Hawks of the past have been out-muscled, Cohadarevic believes the Bay franchise can add another title to their 2006 one under Dennis.

"We're all strong. There's no Pero Cameron in the league because there's only one guy like him born every 30 years.

"You compensate skills with size but it's not all about that."

He finds a flaw in the NBL.

To have a team make the final on one game, Cohadarevic believes, makes the playoffs a lottery.

"You can have a fifth-placed team beat the top one to make the final in one good game on the day.

"In Cyprus they play the best of five," he says after helping his team, Aek, become the champions before coming here.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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