There are highly regarded prospects who receive heavy attention early in their careers, however unable to maintain a level of excellence in order to take the “next step.”
In other words, they “fall off.” — We’ve seen it happen time and time again, it happens every year.
On the flipside, there are many who aren’t fortunate enough to be celebrated through these early stages, yet remain patient and persistent, taking baby steps to get from point A to point B.
They simply live in the trenches and methodically improve their game through precise preperation, on and off the floor.
We call these guys gym rats.
Let me introduce you to a player that would fit the description to a tee — Nemanja Zarkovic — 2014 Canadian prospect out of Jean De Brebeuf in Montreal, Quebec.
The 6’3 combo guard has recently committed to Fordham University (NCAA D1) of the Atlantic 10 conference–the same league that just sent six teams to the NCAA tournament this past season.
The first time that we had an opportunity to witness Nem in action was at the NPH Quebec Showcase in May of 2012.
At this point, Zarkovic was not highly touted, nor was he the player that he is today. However, what we saw was a unique individual that was well-conditioned, possessed a high basketball I.Q and a solid fundamental skill set to make up for his lack of speed and athleticism.
On top of that, he was machine-like in his preparation.
Nutrition, stretching, attention to detail–he does everything that a high level student-athlete is suppose to do.
Joey McKitterick, who coached Zarkovic on the club scene with Brookwood Elite, had nothing but high praise.
“He’s always on time; he’s strict in his diet…he is the best leader that I have ever coached,” McKitterick told North Pole Hoops, referring to Nem’s intangibles.
“I remember him getting into arguments when we were on the road about guys eating McDonalds.”
At Jean-De-Brebeuf, Zarkovic has progressed under Head Coach Mike Chmliewski.
“He is a late bloomer, and he will be better; he is a lock down defender at the next level.”
Last summer, the Serbian sniper averaged over 20 points per game against NCAA D1 competition through four games.
“That’s when division one schools woke up,” said Chmliewski.
Zarkovic does not pass the “look test” according to his CEGEP coach–a reason he believes his guard did not have all the college programs pulling the trigger on an offer.
“He doesn’t have the look. When teams down South watch him, they immediately notice the ‘it factor.’ the intangibles — it has nothing to do with his physical look.”
McKitterick echoed Chmliewski, saying that he was not blessed with natural gifts of great leaping ability or blinding speed.
“God didn’t say Nemanja was going to be a great basketball player; he really worked on his body. The skill was always there.”
He did not pass the look test.
And that may be true, however production speaks volumes as Zarkovic averaged 21 PPG this season playing against high level competition across North America.
What distinguishes Nem?
“Attitude and character – those two things. He gets it. When we were playing against Brewster and we are not talking X’s and O’s, he gets, and it’s because of him and Joseph [Chartouny], we competed against those top teams,” explained Chmliewski.
Zarkovic tried out for Brookwood Elite two years in a row, and was cut twice, before turning the corner last summer–to the point where McKitterick could not take him off the floor.
“Nemanja was not just the extension of the coach on the floor…he ran the show. If a guy took a bad shot, I didn’t have to say anything, he would speak up and lead.”
Nemanja Zarkovic is a prime example of relentless work ethic translating to success; he is an ideal role model for every high school player that doesn’t pass the look test…intangibles at 100.
By all accounts, Nem is passing with flying colours.