Jusuf Nurkic of Portland Trail Blazers: From a Svojat boy to the Bosnian Beast

N1/ Jusuf Nurkić OŠ "Bašigovci" U Bašigovcima

Have you ever heard of Svojat? A village near Zivinice in northeastern Bosnia, the place where the brightest star of the Bosnian basketball sky comes from - one of the key figures of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers. Jusuf Nurkic obtained a part of his primary education in the nearby Basigovci. In the conversations with his classmates and teacher, N1 unveils details of Nurkic's childhood as an inspiration to new generations. Pročitaj više

“Don't worry. Your fate has already been determined,” reads the description of a photo that Jusuf Nurkic posted on his official Facebook page, recalling the motivational messages that still resonate in his mind today.

The photo shows Jusuf with his classmates and his first basketball coach in Basigovci.

Facebook/Jusuf Nurkić-BosnianBeast23

It is easy to recognise him. Even today his friends say: “He was taller than all of us, his sneakers were made-to-measure in the eighth grade.”

One of the boys in the photo is Mevludin Muratovic. He is a truck driver today, temporarily residing in Slovenia. Mevludin answered our call with enthusiasm, because, as he said, only the mention of Jusuf's name evokes memories of a handful of beautiful moments.

“We were in class together and shared the same school desk. His life resembled the life of an ordinary village boy. His father was a police officer, and his family was also engaged in agriculture. He never stood out from the others, nor did he ever say a bad word to anyone. He was mostly influenced by his father, because he spent most of his time with him, he took great care of him. His mother rarely came to school for information. Jusuf helped his parents a lot in agricultural work. And he could manage everything, he was diligent and despite everything he managed to do his training,” Mevludin recalled.

Jusuf's friend says that “Juka” fell in love with the “magic game on two hoops” in the fifth or sixth grade of elementary school.

When money and fame change you but for the better

“No one could imagine that Jusuf would go that far. In some conversations with him, he himself did not think that he would ever be a basketball player. He was always, so to speak, a head taller than us average boys. We loved playing on the training ground near the school. We met in Basigovci, where I lived, and Jusuf came from the village of Svojat. Already in the eighth grade of primary school, they could no longer find his shoes and then they had to order sneakers. Of all the guys in the picture, we stayed in touch the most, we bonded over basketball. But, well, I took some other path, girls, this and that. But I clearly doubt that I would be a basketball player than Jusuf, that was the fate,” Nurkic's friend told N1.

He also said that Jusuf was the only man whom money and fame have changed for the better. Because he never forgot his “old” friends.

From a Svojat boy to the Bosnian Beast

Fehro Muratovic is also among the boys from the same photo. In the first, written response to N1, he said:

“It was a long time ago when I first saw the Bosnian Beast; then a complete stranger, a primary school student. He had little interest in books, he always loved basketball; I don't think he could have dreamed of becoming what he is today. He excelled in basketball during the physical education, he was always the first one in a small room in our gym, where we had mats, cones, and a large box with various balls, for football, volleyball, basketball.”

Jusuf, the boy who would later grow into the Bosnian Beast on the floor of the strongest basketball league in the world, always tried to be the first to reach the highest quality basketball, although the choice was not great.

“I remember well one occasion when we were in the locker room, preparing for physical education class, I asked him: Juka, what's the size of your sneakers?, and he replied: 50.5. And then I asked: Where do you get that?, he replied: Only at order. We laughed ourselves to tears,” Muratovic recalled.

Jusuf Nurkic's first coach was Muhamed Umihanic. He passed away a few years ago. Fehro told us that it was Muhamed who recognized Jusuf's talent and positioned him in the center.

Juka was always an ordinary man, said Muratovic, but he stood out for his height.

“Whenever he came to school, we as children were amazed, we were always at a distance, we were simply afraid of this giant man. We sometimes called him ‘Div’ (a giant), but we didn't mean anything bad,” he added.

N1 also spoke to Nurkic's teacher Camil Ahmetovic.

“I can speak about Jusuf primarily as his class teacher/teacher at the Basigovci primary school, but also as a person with whom he built trust and a special connection during schooling. First of all, I would like to point out that Jusuf comes from a traditional Bosnian family to which he was very attached,” he explained.

N1/ Jusuf Nurkić sa razredom i nastavnikom u OŠ "Bašigovci"

Jusuf's teacher claims that it all started in the sixth grade, when Jusuf's father Hariz realised that his basketball career could have a future:

“When they returned from one of the municipal basketball competitions, they ran into my class and said: ‘Teacher, we nailed it! Juka was under the hoop and was just throwing in’,” the teacher recalled and added:

“Due to his training, it was harder for him to catch up with the planned obligations at school, but he was always interested, both him and his parents, in catching up with the missed classes. He is excellent in learning and certainly in being a leader. It was, let me say, a ‘skinny’ A.”

Everything is possible

The last thing Ahmetovic remembers is the end of Jusuf's education in Basigovci, when they had a talk unaware of his future success.

“Jusuf, save at least one pair of sneakers that you will use in the NBA for your classmate,” Ahmetovic told him and Nurkic replied with a smile:

“Yes, teacher.”

“I agreed, their size would be too big for me, but we made a deal: in exchange for sneakers, I’ll watch him on TV playing in NBA. Here, thank God, he succeeded with the support and love of all those who knew him… We honored our agreement. It is my pleasure to have been a part of his life and this beautiful story,” Ahmetovic proudly noted.

Instead of a conclusion let's think about this: Why not encourage the children of Bosnia and Herzegovina, from all parts of this country, to succeed instead of spoiling their “children's dreams”, which – like Jusuf's – can become a reality?