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July 29, 2010
War behind him, Hodzic emerges at Lipscomb
NASHVILLE -- Some memories of Adnan Hodzic's early childhood come to him only in flashes.
Hodzic, a forward at Lipscomb who is the top returning scorer in the nation, never had a plastic basketball hoop or an orange foam basketball growing up. He rarely even went outside to play. Instead, Hodzic remembers running through the streets of Sarajevo with his mother with bullets flying.
"It's really hard to remember, man," Hodzic says. "I remember a lot of war stuff. You know -- bombs, gun shots, hiding. I also remember a loving family. Beautiful country. Granted, a lot of stuff I remember is bad."
Hodzic, who averaged 22.7 points per game last season and won Atlantic Sun player of the year honors, was the first in his family to touch a basketball. For a time, neither Hodzic nor his family knew if he'd have the opportunity to do even that, much less that his mother, father and older sister Amina one day would be able to drive a few hours to watch him play college basketball.
Hodzic is 21. He was 3 when Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from the former Yugoslavia. With his father, Mehmed, in the Bosnian army and a home in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, Adnan was in the middle of one of Europe's bloodiest conflicts since World War II.
While Hodzic lived in a house with boarded-up windows and cinder blocks in front of entry ways, basketball wasn't even a dream.
"You never know that your child or you will survive," says Hodzic's mother, Mevlida. "Many nights we stayed in the basement. It's hard to watch your child and know that he's not able to go out and play. You just need to feel it. I can't explain how it feels. You never know if you or child will survive or how long you will live your life."
Reminders of the dangers of war were vivid. Hodzic remembers a day when his parents ventured out of their home to get water. He poked his head out of the house to see a man running down the street when "suddenly a bomb drops and completely wipes him out. … He was definitely visible, and he just died."
Another time, Hodzic was in the house playing when soldiers burst inside with his father on a stretcher; Mehmed's foot had been mangled by machine-gun bullets. Mehmed had gone into the street to rescue an older man who had been wounded. The old man died, but Mehmed recovered.
"I matured at a young age because I had no choice," Hodzic says. "I couldn't yell or go outside of the house and play in the yard. You have to do these things other kids don't have to. They're life-endangering decisions in a sense."
On one of the few occasions it was safe to be outside, Hodzic and a friend were in the woods pretending to be soldiers. The boys carried sticks as guns. Hodzic snuck behind his friend, who suddenly turned around and poked Hodzic in the eye with the stick.
After visiting Bosnian doctors, it was determined that Hodzic could not have the surgery necessary to repair his eye in his own country. An attack in Sarajevo on Feb. 5, 1994, in which one artillery shell killed 68 people and wounded 100 others, meant hospitals were not safe. Even hospitals with children.
Hodzic, his mother and older sister were permitted to leave the country safely as refugees so Adnan could have the needed surgery. They moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Hodzic's father had friends. Six months later, the family moved to Fishers, Ind., a suburb of Indianapolis.
Leaving Bosnia for the United States saved only part of the family from immediate danger. Hodzic's father remained a soldier in Bosnia. Phone calls between the family and Mehmed were rare. He did not join the family in the United States until after the war ended with Bosnian independence in 1995.
Though the family escaped war, life wasn't easy in the United States. Money was tight, and Mevlida did not speak English when she arrived.
The war also took its toll on Hodzic's psyche. On a Fourth of July after their arrival, the sound of fireworks sent Hodzic ducking for cover under a table. He asked his mother if there was war in the United States, too.
Eventually, he adjusted. After his father arrived, he took young Hodzic to a Bulls-Pacers game in Indianapolis. Though the father -- a former pro soccer player -- knew little about basketball, he knew enough to point out Michael Jordan, who was winding down his career with the Bulls.
Hodzic was hooked. He told his father he was not interested in soccer and instead wanted to play basketball. He tried out for his seventh-grade team but didn't make it. He finally landed on an organized team in eighth grade.
He continued to develop through high school at Indianapolis North Central, but he was lost amid a glut of talent in the city. He was a teammate of current Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Gordon. Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague and Purdue center JaJuan Johnson also played in the same city that season. On top of that, Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. graduated from Lawrence North a year ahead of Hodzic.
When Hodzic played on AAU teams, he either was a bit player on a good team or a good player on a bad team.
"If you saw him in high school, he was big and strong, but they never threw the ball to him on the block," Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson says. "He never touched the ball unless it was off a rebound."
Once at Lipscomb, Hodzic quickly developed into a much better player than Sanderson anticipated. Midway through his freshman season, Hodzic learned enough about footwork and angles for Sanderson to feel comfortable feeding him the ball in the low post. At 6 feet 9 and 255 pounds, Hodzic causes problems in the Atlantic Sun with his size. He averaged 8.9 points to win freshman all-conference honors before averaging 17.1 points and 7.1 rebounds as a sophomore.
Lipscomb finished last season in a four-way tie for the A-Sun regular-season title and earned the No. 1 seed on the conference tournament. Lipscomb was upset by Kennesaw State in the first round, losing its chance to play in the program's first NCAA tournament. The Bisons didn't even play in the NIT because one of the other teams tied for the conference championship, Jacksonville, advanced farther in the A-Sun tournament.
Hodzic applied for the NBA draft after last season but didn't hire an agent. He eventually decided to stay in school for his senior season, giving Lipscomb hope it can earn its first NCAA bid.
Perhaps a bigger surprise than Hodzic's development as a player is the background of one of his best friends on the team. Milos Kleut signed with Lipscomb last year out of Marietta (Ga.) North Cobb Christian. Like Hodzic, Kleut arrived in the United States from Eastern Europe. But Kleut grew up in Belgrade, Serbia, before moving to the United States before his junior year of high school to live with a host family. The Serbian government under Slobodan Milosevic had backed the armies that devastated Sarajevo.
Sanderson says he wondered if a Bosnian and a Serb could co-exist on his team, but he also says he was confident their personalities would mesh once Kleut arrived on campus. The two have become close friends. Kleut, a 6-10 center, faces Hodzic every day in practice, and the two socialize off the court as well.
Hodzic's mother talked with her son before Kleut's arrival last season.
"I told [Adnan] he's younger than maybe you were [at the time of the war]," Mevlida Hodzic says. "He didn't do anything. They're not all the same, and we have to forgive each other. … He's somebody's child, too."
Many Bosnians, including his mother, are reluctant to talk about the war, but Hodzic has been back five times, most recently last summer. Other than his immediate family and a couple of cousins, the rest of his family still lives in Bosnia.
Seeking context for his early childhood, Hodzic asked questions of an older cousin, who pointed him to various documentaries from different viewpoints.
"I can never thank him enough because people were not willing to talk about it," Hodzic says.
One day, Hodzic and his family plan to return to Bosnia. But the recovery still is taking place and Hodzic still has one more season to play at Lipscomb.
"I'm die-hard Bosnian," Hodzic says. "America is awesome, but my country is where I'm from."
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.