published Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Chattanooga Mocs eye big run at tourney

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    UTC's Drazen Zlovaric drives for two of his first half points during Fridays 108-78 defeat of the Reinhardt Eagles at McKenzie Arena.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Steve Campbell has a European vacation in mind for sometime next basketball season.

He'd like to head overseas with his wife, Debbie, to watch their Serbian son play in a professional basketball game.

They've watched almost every game Drazen Zlovaric has played since they became his American guardians in Cleveland and he played high school basketball for the Blue Raiders.

"We missed one game this year," Campbell said. "We've been to Madison Square Gardens, to the west coast, to Hawaii, to Indiana last year and to LSU and Kansas this year."

Their next road trip is to see Zlovaric and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga play in the Southern Conference tournament in Asheville, N.C. Zlovaric and the Mocs (13-18, 8-10 SoCon) will play UNC Greensboro (8-21, 6-12) on Friday at 6 in the U.S. Cellular Center.

It could be his last game in the United States. Or the Mocs could stay awhile in the North Carolina mountains, or become the first SoCon team to win four games in the tournament and play in the Big Dance.

"We, as a team, can do something special in this tournament," said Zlovaric, who has averaged 8.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game this year. "I think we can play anybody in this league. We also showed we can have off-nights too."

Zlovaric played one season for the Blue Raiders (the TSSAA allowed foreign-exchange students) then went to Patterson Prep School where he garnered serious recruiting interest from SEC schools, plus Southern Cal and Texas. The Campbells and Zlovaric ate breakfast at IHOP with the Longhorn coaching staff and Kevin Durant before Zlovaric chose to play for Georgia.

He played two years for the Bulldogs before transferring closer to home, sitting out one year then playing for UTC coach John Shulman.

"We called him 'Z' up until about the time he transferred to UTC," Campbell said. "One night we had a bunch of the guys over for dinner and [Mocs forward] Z. Mason was kind of confused at first."

There is no confusion for Zlovaric about the importance of the upcoming weekend. He chose to remain in Chattanooga over the summer to improve his skills instead of returning to his native land and his biological family -- a sacrifice.

"I expected a lot more for my senior year," Zlovaric said. "It's not over by any means."

However, his college career, and likely his American career, will come to a close one day this month. But it won't be the last game he ever plays.

"I'll stay here and work out after graduation because this is the place that I can stay focused the most," said Zlovaric, who may play for the Serbian national team in the World University Games this summer. "They have a lot of pro camps and showcases, so we'll go from there."

That fact of finality of this season is not lost on Campbell.

"It will be a little bit sad," Campbell said. "Maybe I can start getting my golf game back in shape. I've got five grand-babies so I'll have some games to go to in the future. But they're all 4 or younger."

Zlovaric has pleased his America parents for years. He's pleased UTC coach John Shulman along the way as well. But he's provided some frustrating moments as well such as the time he tried talking to the bench during the middle of a game.

He's also soared to the top of the sports landscape by hammering home a dunk on the opening play against Elon last year that earned a spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays.

"Drazen is an interesting bird because he's a sensitive kid, and you see all this potential in all he can do," Shulman said. "You see this unbelievable specimen in practice and he has a tough time transferring it to the court.

"He's shown flashes of brilliance, and other times, he's shown flashes of not-so-brilliant."

One of those brilliant games could prolong Zlovaric's college career. A different performance could cancel the Campbell's reservations in Asheville.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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