Nikola Vucevic never saw Shaquille O’Neal pull the backboard down in the black and white Magic pinstripes. Vucevic never heard bedtime stories about Hall of Fame centers like Moses Malone or George Mikan. Born in Montenegro, a small country on the southeastern coast of Europe, Vucevic didn’t even know the NBA existed.
Still, even as a child, he always had a dream to play professional basketball with the best players in the world. Now, he is the starting center for the Orlando Magic. Ask him how it happened and he’ll tell you, largely from the relationship he has with his family.
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FOX Sports Florida sat down with the second -ear center as he shared about his home and his family in this week’s Q&A.
FS Florida: You were raised in Belgium where your dad was a professional basketball player. What was it like growing up watching him play?
Vucevic: “It was a lot of fun. My dad was my idol growing up. I used to go to almost every one of his practices and all of his games. He was my favorite player. I really enjoyed being there with him. Now that I look back on it, I think it helped me a lot to learn about the game.”
FS Florida: Was your dad a center as well?
Vucevic: “No, he’s like 6-6. He was a wing player. So not the same position as me, but watching him still helped me with knowing how to take care of my body and learning work ethic and how to be a professional. He was my biggest role model.”
FS Florida: Did you ever challenge him to any one-on-one games?
Vucevic: “Oh yeah! Different sports too. It wasn’t just basketball. We played a lot of soccer also. In the soccer games I was pretty solid. I could beat him even when I was younger. In basketball I couldn’t beat him until I was like 16 years old. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I beat him.”
FS Florida: How did he take it?
Vucevic: “Well he never used to let me win. He would try to find every way to win, like even cheat; He didn’t care. But, at one point he started getting older, his knees were hurting so he couldn’t really move a lot. I just took advantage of my youth. When I finally beat him, he didn’t take it very well. I mean he wasn’t mad or anything, but he’s a competitive guy. I could tell it hurt him a little bit.”
FS Florida: You still look to him for encouragement and advice on your game?
Vucevic: “Oh yeah! All the time. We speak almost every day on the phone and he tries to watch every game. If he can’t watch it live he’ll still go in and watch it and tell me about it. He always gives me advice on what to do and how to get better. So he coaches me just about every day.”
FS Florida: Are you the tallest in your family?
Vucevic: “Yea, I am. My sister and my mom are both around 6 feet. So I’m the tallest, but we’re a pretty tall family.”
FS Florida: Did you all do a lot of family traveling growing up?
Vucevic: “We did. We lived in Belgium during the school year and my dad’s season. Then when we were done with school we would move back to Montenegro and live there until school started up again. So I would say my childhood years were spent half in Belgium, half in Montenegro. We also used to travel Europe whenever we had a break from school. My parents were really big on learning about different cultures and visiting different countries.”
FS Florida: What’s your favorite place you’ve ever visited?
Vucevic: “I’d say France. I like Paris a lot. I was pretty young when we visited there, but it is still a really nice city. Also, my uncle lives on the French Riviera so we would go to Monte Carlo when we visited him and it’s so nice. So I like France a lot. There’s a lot of culture and history, a lot of places to visit. It’s a really great country.”
FS Florida: When was your first time coming to America?
Vucevic: “My first time in America was when I came for my last year of high school to go to school and play basketball.”
FS Florida: How was the adjustment from Europe to America?
Vucevic: “It’s pretty different from where I am from. Of course I missed my family and home, but I was in Los Angeles and I was so excited to be in America playing basketball. LA is so beautiful. The weather is perfect, the water, the breeze. It really made the transition a lot easier.”
FS Florida: In Montenegro you have the beach and the mountains. What do you like best?
Vucevic: “My city is on the beach, but my house is a little bit on the hill. Montenegro is a mix of the hills and the coast, but the hills are very close to the sea. So I would say that I like both. I’m like probably 3 miles away from the beach, but I’m also up in the hills. It’s really nice.”
FS Florida: What type of music do you listen to?
Vucevic: “I like some American rap, not much of the current stuff that is out right now. But, I do like French rap. I speak French as well so I can understand it. I also like house music, techno … I like some European music. I listen to a variety of things.”
FS Florida: If you weren’t playing basketball, what would you want to do?
Vucevic: “Well I love all sports. Ever since I was a kid, that’s all we did. I know a lot about a variety of sports and I love talking about sports. So I think I would want to be a sports broadcaster. I would get to sit around and talk about sports all day. That seems like a really fun job that I would be good at.”
FS Florida: What’s a hobby of yours outside of playing basketball?
Vucevic: “I like watching movies and playing video games.”
FS Florida: Favorite movie?
Vucevic: “The Lord of the Rings. I actually just recently bought them on Blu-ray and watched the entire trilogy again.”
FS Florida: What’s been your favorite thing about playing in the NBA so far?
Vucevic: “Just being able to play against all the best players in the world, that’s always been a dream of mine. I’m playing against guys that two years ago I was watching on TV just wishing I could play against them. Now it’s like, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, every night. All of those guys I used to watch and learn from and still do learn from. I remember last year, my first time playing against Miami, I thought, ‘Man, LeBron used to be my favorite player to watch; Now I have to worry about playing help defense on him and trying to stop him from getting all the way to the basket.’ It’s a lot of fun to compete against the best players. I’m a competitive person, so it just makes me better as player as well.”
FS Florida: What is your most memorable basketball moment?
Vucevic: “Just coming from watching my dad play professional basketball in Belgium
and wanting to be just like him, the night I got drafted into the NBA has to be my most memorable moment. That night my agent had already told me I was going to be picked somewhere in the top 20, but I was still nervous in the green room. When (NBA commissioner) David Stern called my name I just thought in my head, ‘You made it.’ All the work paid off. My parents were with me and my uncle, and it was just a special moment.”
FS Florida: I know your dad had to be proud of you. Did he tell you anything after you came down from the stage?
Vucevic: “He was actually pretty quiet that night. I think he was pretty nervous. He didn’t really talk a lot, but I know he was the proudest guy in the room. It was one of those moments where you just can’t put into words. Definitely a great night for all of us. “