Senior Marko Gujanicic has played in 119 games for the Patriots, starting 40 during his four-year career. He has played at the international level, representing his native Serbia three times, including at the 2012 FIBA Under-20 European Championship. GoMason.com sat down with Gujanicic for a Q&A.
Why did you come to the United States to play basketball?
To get an education and play basketball. It was the only way to get both. I graduated from high school in my hometown and did one year of prep school in California. It gave me a year to become more fluent and get used to the idea of going to college in the US.
How often do you see your family?
Once a year and I always go home. My dad came to visit me for a week my freshman year and my sister came for a week when I was a sophomore. My mother has never been to the US, but both my parents and my sister will all come in May for my graduation.
What do you miss about Serbia?
The food, especially my mother's food. The dish I miss most is sarma - cabbage rolled with rice and meat. But the cabbage is prepared months in advance.
When did you start playing basketball?
I started playing when I was seven years old. I would play around my neighborhood. In elementary school, my dad signed me up for my school team. When you were young, there were a lot of different club teams, but when you would get older, they combined into one club.
When did it become a possibility for you to come to the US for prep school?
Did you travel a lot growing up?
About a month before I came. After high school graduation, I could either sign with a pro club or study and get my degree, but I never wanted to end up in a position where I had to choose between the two. I always wanted to combine the two, but that was impossible over there. I didn't want to give up on basketball, but I also wanted to get an education and a degree. Coming to the US gave me that possibility.
It was a late decision to come here because it's not very regulated on how you do it and it's a gamble in terms of logistics – how to get here, what prep school will take you? I was blessed on where I went because it was tough, but a great opportunity.
How is basketball different in the US?
The game is much faster here and much more athletic. In Europe, it's much more tactical and more fundamental.
Have your parents ever seen you play a college game?
When my dad and sister were here, they got to see my play. They watch online whenever they have the chance depending on the time we play. My dad will follow the stats and play by play and always gives me feedback after the games. I like talking to my dad after games because he sees it from a different angle.
Did your parents play any sports? Did you play any sports other than basketball?
My mom played handball and my dad played soccer. I never played any sport other than basketball. I've loved it since I was five. I would play it everywhere, in the house, in the yard, anywhere.
Not much when I was younger, but once I started playing seriously, we would travel with the club and national teams. I have had the chance to go through many countries because of basketball and that was great. Compared to some others that go on family vacations, I had the opportunity to travel with my team. With my regional team we went to Italy and Spain and with the national team, we went to France, Latvia and Lithuania. When did you play with your National Team and when did it become a possibility that could occur for you?
I played for my national team three summers in a row – U18, U19 and U20. European championships start when you are 16 years old. I was with a club team before that, but it really gets serious when you turn about 15-16. So I had my first experience in U16, but then there was no U17 club. I played in the European Championship with U18 club and U19 was World Championships in which we placed second and I think that really helped me a lot to come over here for prep school. After my one year of prep school, I played with my national team again with U20 before I came to George Mason. What experience did you gain from competing with your National Team?
First, I got the chance to play with the best guys in my age group in the entire country. Second, it gave me the opportunity and experience to get better. It was a challenge because before, you're good in your city, but when you get combined for the national team, they have all the best players in the country and you're competing at a high level. Now each one is playing professionally.
You also get to play against other countries' teams and see their styles of play. You get to travel and get exposed nationally. It's always an honor to play for your country and wear your country's jersey with your name on the back. When I was growing up, I was watching our national team win championships and that was my dream. Like kids in the US want to play in the NBA, it was my dream to represent my country playing for our national team and when you get the chance to do it, it satisfies you and gives you the chance to go further in your career.