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The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News


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Serbia native continues to improve with Panthers

Sia DeyKoontz
Redshirt sophomore Lazar Grbovic listening to the coaches instruction during basketball practice in Groniger arena on Eastern Illinois university, Wednesday evening.

Everyone has a different journey to get to college. Some never go, while others have their eyes set on college from an early age.

Redshirt sophomore forward Lazar Grbovic was the former, never thinking he’d go to college. He didn’t even think he would be in America.

Grbovic was born in Belgrade, Serbia. Grbovic moved around some when he was younger, but at 7 years old he moved back to Belgrade and started playing basketball.

“I grew up in the capital city of Belgrade,” Grbovic said. “After three years, I moved to the south part of Serbia, and I stayed there for four years. I started first grade in Belgrade again because my dad got a job over there. I started playing basketball when I was seven years old.”

Grbovic eventually got to the age where he could play for a club team in Serbia.

Club teams work very differently compared to high school teams in America. In Europe, there are many teams for certain ages; however, if you are good enough, you can play in the ages above you.

The biggest difference, however, is the schooling and practices.

“You’re not going to school, which is great,” Grbovic said. “You’re going to school; you just [take an] exam, pass exam, one test and you’re good for the rest of the year for that subject. Then you just basically practice like a professional player, which is a big difference than here. You have to go to class every day and then after that you go to practice. It’s a pretty busy day.”

Grbovic ended up playing on the U19 Serbian national team in the under 19 Fiba World Cup.

“We had a really good team. We’ve won the Europa championship here before, and then we lost in the quarter final against another team,” Grbovic explained. “We also played against the USA National Team. I remember I guarded Cade Cunningham that game, and he was first speaking about the draft. This was a really good experience for me.”

After playing in the Fiba World Cup, COVID-19 happened. COVID-19 shut down everything in Europe, including basketball.

Grbovic had no choice but to come to America to keep playing basketball.

“I actually never wanted to come in America,” he said.

Grbovic said he didn’t know where to go, having no club to play in.

“One dude from America, he’s like he’s helping players come over to America to get the scholarship, you know, he called me. He asked me ‘Are you interested to go to America to play Division I basketball?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know,’” Grbovic said. “After a few months, I talked to my parents. I didn’t speak in English at that time. I decided to come over here because it’s a great opportunity because I can graduate at same time play[ing] basketball at a high level.”

Grbovic first played at Arkansas State during the shortened COVID-19 season and left after two years only playing 24 games in total.

Grbovic left to go to Moberly Area Community College, which was a top 10 ranked junior college team in the country. However, he tore his ACL before the season even started.

Eastern decided to take a chance on him even with his recent injury.

Head basketball coach Marty Simmons said he trusted Lazar to put in the work to recover.

“He loves basketball and so really there really wasn’t a lot of a concern because we know how much he wanted to get back to the to the floor,” said Simmons. “He told us he had people that he was working with to make sure he was doing his rehab.”

Grbovic was able to come to Eastern and make an impact as a backup forward.

Coming to America to begin with was a challenge for Grbovic. He had to learn a completely new language, so he had a tough time figuring out plays and understanding his teammates and coaches.

“We just as a staff have got to take a little extra time and just make sure that he understands our offensive sets and out of bound sets and ball screen coverages. When we’re going through scouts and things like that, he’s got a lot on his plate,” Simmons said. “He’s a hard worker, and he’s someone that cares a lot about his performance again whether it’s on the floor or in the classroom. So, he’s constantly working really hard, but I do think that there is a little bit of difficulty there with the [language] barrier.”

One more difficulty for Lazar was adapting to the American play style. The European play style is much more team oriented than in America.

Grbovic said that basketball in America is much more individual and focused on one-on-one situations, where in Serbia he was taught more how to read the game and respond to situations on the floor.

“I would say that’s the biggest difference and the players in America are more athletic than the players from Europe, but I would say the players from Europe read the game better. They recognize situations on the court better,” he said.

After all of these challenges in the road for Grbovic, he hopes that he can make a difference here at Eastern and continue to play at a high level, including trying to get to the next level in Europe or becoming a coach to high school aged athletes.


Patrick Schmitz can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].

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Patrick Schmitz
Patrick Schmitz, Sports Reporter
Patrick Schmitz is a freshman sports media relations major. This is his first year at The News. 

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