The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Playing outside wasn’t an option for Adnan Hodzic, not with bombs and bullets exploding around his Sarajevo home.
He remembers hiding in his basement, seeing daylight slivering around the cinderblocks stacked in the windows when he was a small boy. Survival was the daily focus, and the experience shaped Hodzic’s outlook on life.
Including how he views his success on the basketball court at Lipscomb.
Hodzic is wrapping up his career as the Atlantic Sun Conference’s top scorer. Always polite and smiling off the court, there is no bravado even though he and Duke’s Kyle Singler are the only active college players with at least 1,750 points and 750 rebounds. Hodzic is up to 1,855 points and 776 boards.
He knows escaping the war in his homeland was a blessing, one he says goes beyond the game.
“I know God has brought us here for a reason. I think this is one of the reasons right here. The game of basketball that is such a vital and great tool to take me other places in life,” the 6-foot-8 Hodzic said.
But first his family had to take him out of Sarajevo.
His parents had taken refuge in their home inside Sarajevo, staying in the basement due to the heavy fighting. The family even slept together on a foldout sofa due to the constant danger.
When Hodzic hurt his eye playing with a friend in February 1994, it wasn’t safe to receive treatment at the hospital, which was dealing with massive casualties from one of many intense battles. Hodzic was among those needing surgery and allowed to leave for the United States for treatment. He still remembers the race to the airport in a military Hummer with his mother crying.
His father stayed behind before joining the family months later.
They eventually settled in Indianapolis, where life was much quieter and safer. But Hodzic still had mental scars from the war, and they surfaced one Fourth of July while he was playing in a swimming pool.
“He just went underneath a table,” said his mother, Mevlida Hodzic. “I will remember that the rest of my life. I said, ‘Honey, it’s not bombing here. They don’t have war here or anything.’ I just took him home. They’ll remember that for the rest of their lives.”
Of course in Bosnia, soccer, not basketball, was the family game. So when he first arrived in America, that’s what Hodzic played. The tallest person in his family, he turned to basketball after his father took him to see an Indiana Pacers-Chicago Bulls game – where he became an instant fan of Michael Jordan. He recreated MJ’s moves on the small Bulls’ hoop his mother bought him.
Like his hero, Hodzic experienced rejection before he had any success.
Hodzic didn’t make the first cut when he tried out for the team in seventh grade. He cried for days before heading to the local YMCA where he worked on his game each night. His friends talked him into trying out again in the eighth grade, and he made it.
“When I got that jersey and I got the shoes … it was the most amazing thing ever,” Hodzic said. “So it was just love at that point.”
He played at North Central High School and was teammates with Eric Gordon, now a guard with the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers. A back injury as a junior limited his AAU career, so interest came from mid-majors like Kent State, Miami of Ohio and Lehigh. Hodzic credits Lipscomb assistant coach Jay Walton with luring him to Nashville.
Lipscomb won the recruiting battle for Hodzic when his mother visited the beautiful campus tucked away in an upscale suburban area of Nashville.
“The coaches are just like they’re part of her family even to this day. The mom was a sellout,” Hodzic said with a smile.
Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson, son of coaching legend Wimp Sanderson, saw the 245-pound Hodzic as someone who could be a scoring machine in the A-Sun.
And he was right.
Hodzic scored in double figures for 72 consecutive games before rival Belmont held him to seven points earlier this month, and Hodzic made up for that by scoring 26 points Tuesday night in the rematch to split the series. He has scored 33 twice this season for the A-Sun’s best individual scoring performance this season and is averaging a league-best 19.3 points.
Sanderson has to prod Hodzic to shoot away.
“I’ve coached Chauncey Billups, Ervin Johnson. I’ve coached a bunch of guys. There’s not one guy who meant more to a person’s program than him on the floor, off the floor, academically, religiously, spiritually, the whole 9 yards,” Sanderson said.
Hodzic was second in the nation in scoring last season as the A-Sun player of the year. His scoring is down this season with opponents focused on Hodzic.
“Sometimes I watch film it’s like a suction cup,” Hodzic said. “All five collapse, and it’s tough.”
Hodzic, who graduates in May with a marketing degree, also is working on the mid-range jumper he will need to play his way onto an NBA team or head overseas. He’s savoring each practice while trying to help Lipscomb (12-8) earn its first NCAA tournament berth, which will come only through winning the A-Sun tournament and automatic spot.
And in a twist that shows how generations can grow past war, Hodzic also is friends with sophomore Milos Kleut – from Belgrade, Serbia. Hodzic welcomed the chance to be able speak his language with someone, and Sanderson says they’re like best friends jabbering together.
“My parents didn’t raise me to hate anybody,” Hodzic said. “He didn’t do anything to my family members back then. It wasn’t him. I didn’t do anything to his. Why would I have anything against him?”
Hodzic has studied documentaries about the war and hopes to live again in Sarajevo some day. He won’t be harboring thoughts of revenge or anger. He just wants to live.
“That’s why I love basketball. It teaches me about life. Just live in the moment,” he said.