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September 18, 2013

Matasovic adjusting to life at Western Michigan

Mario Matasovic has taken a slightly unusual path to the Western Michigan basketball program. The 6-foot-7 forward was recruited by Steve Hawkins to fill an immediate need shortly after the departure of 2012-2013 Freshman of the Year Darius Paul announced he intended to transfer out of the program last spring.

Originally from Croatia, Matasovic attended St. John's Northwestern Military Academy (SJNMA) located in Delafield, WI last year. According to the school's website, SJNMA is "a private, all-male college preparatory and leadership development school that combines personalized academic instruction, mandatory participation in athletics, ongoing instruction in ethics and values, and a structure, military-style environment that together allow each student an opportunity to achieve at his full potential."

The school is primarily a boarding school for students in grades 7-12, and infuses structured programs and routines such as wearing uniforms, participation in color guard, drill, college level courses, and requirement to play in at least one of the schools 13 varsity athletic programs.

Matasovic came directly from Europe to SJNMA with little time to adjust to the American way of life, let alone the strict environment in which he was challenged with at a military school.

"The first couple of weeks were a little bit of a shock," Matasovic explained to BroncoBlitz.com about the transition. "The first couple of weeks, it was really hard. But after that everything was fine."

Matasovic told a story about a fellow student pulling the fire alarm one night. The students were woken up in the middle of the night and were immediately instructed to go outside in below zero temperatures.

An authority figure at SJNMA made his classmates all do push ups until someone in the group admitted to the mischievous behavior.

Matasovic added that even things such as waking up and making their own bed in the morning was under strict supervision. If his bedsheets weren't pulled up to the exact inch, there was potential for punishment or discipline.

"There are some things I can take with me like my behavior and responsibility," said Matasovic recalling the experience. "Because there, we were held responsible for everything we did."

Last year, Matasovic attended SJNMA with his primary goal being to get a scholarship for college. Matasovic accomplished his goals, eventually choosing Western Michigan over offers from Chicago State and Northern Kentucky.

"I had a couple of offers and I liked the the Western Michigan offer the most," Matasovic said. "I came here on a visit and liked the coaching staff and the facilities."

Head coach Steve Hawkins said it was not only his basketball skills, but Mario's personality, that the coaching staff fell in love with while recruiting him.

"He's as easy to get along with as you can find," said Hawkins. "He'll become a fan favorite pretty quick. He's got a real sense of humor, he plays hard, loves to play, and loves being here."

Matasovic's personality has already made him popular among teammates as well, but if he wants to find time on the floor, he'll need to adjust quickly to the speed and overall physical brand of basketball that is played in the United States and in the Mid-American Conference specifically.

He readily admits the difference and is working daily to make the proper physical and mental adjustments.

"My aggressiveness is probably the main thing I need to work on," said Matasovic.

"I would say that the main difference between Europe and [the United States] is physical contact. I think here, more physical contact is allowed and in Europe they would call fouls for that. Another thing
is the speed of the game. I think the game is faster here."

"It's not a problem for me to change from Europe basketball to here. I just need to remind myself everyday to be physical here," Matasovic repeated with a smile.

"I remember when we first started to recruit him," Hawkins remembered. "One of my buddies that coached with St. John's and worked with that team said, 'Have you ever dealt much with any of the Croatians?' And I said no. He said, 'Well you're going to find out that they're all really skilled, all really good shooters, they're all really funny, and they don't want to play defense.' I've found all of that to be true. So we're working on the defensive part. Everything else we love."

Matasovic will be vying for playing time this upcoming season against senior center Shayne Whittington, freshman power forward Kellen McCormick, and sophomore forwards Connar Tava and A.J. Avery.

"Assuming there is normal progress involved, he has got a chance to have a really, really good career here." said Hawkins.

"He's very skilled, has really long arms, understands the game and has a high basketball IQ. The areas that he struggles with right now are the areas of strength. But there is no question that his best basketball is ahead of him."

Also see: 'What's in my bag?' with Mario Matasovic

The Broncos officially begin practice in just a couple of short weeks. They'll host two exhibition games on November 2nd (Kalamazoo College) and November 4th (Aquinas College), before traveling to Hawaii to open their season in the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Rainbow Classic.

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