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French fan favorite brings experience to men’s basketball
Brett Medeiros / Staff Writer
Born in Serbia and raised in Paris, France, senior forward Niko Stojiljkovic is one of the newest international basketball players to a metroplex that knows all about tall European forwards.
Like many children growing up in France, Stojiljkovic’s first love was soccer, but as he continued to grow, his size made it more difficult to play. He then looked at a career in basketball.
“I do miss playing soccer, but you know I still watch it regularly and follow it like any other fan,” Stojiljkovic said. “Basketball was just a better fit for me and it’s really brought me a long way so I can’t complain.”
Stojiljkovic found early success in the sport, earning a chance to play with the Under-16 and Under-18 French National Teams in the European Championships.
In 2009, he was a member of the U18 International Basketball Federation European Championship French team that fell to Serbia in the finals, 78-72.
“It was the experience of a lifetime because you get the first taste of what it’s like to be a professional,” Stojiljkovic said. “If I can make another roster anywhere in Europe after college I’ll take it in a heartbeat. It was an incredible experience.”
In the last four years, he has bounced around the U.S., starting at the University of San Francisco, then moving to Lon Morris Junior College in Jacksonville, Texas and eventually joining the Mean Green last season as a junior. The acquisition of Stojiljkovic makes him the first European player to play for the Mean Green basketball team.
According to Stojiljkovic, the toughest thing about the transition from Paris to California to Texas, besides the language change, is dealing with the change in cuisine, particularly the greasy and fried food that Texas has to offer.
“The language difference was of course the first problem, but as time went on that disappeared,” he said. “But the food, I’m still trying to get used to the food. It’s just not the same, you know?”
Stojiljkovic is the traditional face-up big man with range, footwork and a high basketball IQ: a staple of European basketball stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Andrea Bargnani and the Gasol brothers.
At UNT, Stojiljkovic was welcomed with open arms and he became an instant fan favorite because of the way that he plays and handles himself on the court.
“Niko is a guard in a big man’s body,” senior guard Brandan Walton said. “I always tell him that he’s got the potential to do anything. Being the fan favorite might be the case because he’s like Dirk in some ways, but hey it is certainly not a bad guy to model yourself after.”
In his first season with the Mean Green, Stojiljkovic did not see a lot of playing time, but with an injury-plagued roster this year, he is earning close to 25 minutes a night. Though his point totals are not that of an all-conference standout, his time on the court is as valuable as anyone’s.
“Niko is a very versatile player and brings a lot of value to any basketball team,” head coach Tony Benford said. “He brings a lot of positives on and off the court with his ability to play any position on the court.”
Stojiljkovic is currently playing through his senior year and will be honored along with the other Mean Green seniors in the final home game of the season on Feb. 28.
Stojiljkovic is an international studies major and he hopes to find a job traveling the world, putting his ability to speak three languages – Serbian, French and English – to use, if basketball does not work out for him in France.