“Kresimir Cosic—Basketball and Baptism,” New Era, Feb. 1974, 9
“You can tell a Mormon,” people say. “He stands out in a crowd.”
This one does. He ascends 6 feet, 11 inches, standing in his size 17 shoes. Yet with this towering frame he jumps like a gazelle. He has more moves than Bobby Fischer and more tricks than Harry Houdini. He’s an Olympic star, an All-American honorable mention, a European all-star, and the highest scorer and rebounder in the history of Brigham Young University—the Yugoslavian giant, Kresimir Cosic.
A native of Zadar, Yugoslavia, Kresimir has led his hometown team to the Yugoslavian national championship and represented his nation at the Mexico City and Munich Olympic Games. The team won a silver medal at Mexico City in 1968.
He has traveled all around the world playing basketball for Yugoslavian and European all-star teams.
From 1969 to 1973 Kresimir established himself as one of the best, if most unorthodox, centers ever to play in the Western Athletic Conference, leading BYU to two conference championships in three years.
He was a nonconformist from the start, doing such uncenterlike things as leading the fast break on the dribble, potting long outside shots, going in for two-handed, underhand lay-ups with his knees tucked under his chin, and shooting underhand shots along the baseline against towering defenders. Perhaps his passing was the most spectacular element of the game, as he hit men he didn’t even seem to be looking at and who didn’t even seem to be open. Flying up and down the court, his long limbs moving in ways unknown to medical science, the man from Zadar earned such nicknames as “the wild giraffe,” “the runaway camel,” and “the tallest guard in the league.”
In November of 1971 Kresimir was baptized a member of the Church. He lives his religion with the same determination and gusto with which he plays basketball. Kresimir’s BYU teammates report that after his conversion he could seldom be seen without a Church book in his hands—on planes and buses, in hotel rooms, or wherever he was.
Since leaving BYU, Kresimir has returned to Zadar where he works as the general manager of Zadar’s basketball teams, selecting and training the coaches, and also playing on the number one team himself. In Yugoslavia, amateur athletic teams are sponsored by cities and clubs instead of by schools. Kresimir also plays for Yugoslavia in international competition. In the recent European championships, which Yugoslavia won, he was voted a member of the All-Europe team. Part of the championship Yugoslavian team, led by Kresimir, visited the United States in November and won six out of eight games against Big Eight competition.
The drastic change that has taken place in Kresimir’s lifestyle since he joined the Church has prompted questions from many of his thousands of fans, and he answers them with the confidence that comes from hard study and real conviction. Answering these queries is often a real challenge, because most members of the younger generation in Yugoslavia have no background in any type of religious belief, lacking even the religious vocabulary common in such discussions.
Kresimir’s devotion to his religion prompted Tempo, a prominent sports magazine, to conclude sadly, “Kresimir’s stay in the USA has made him a religious fanatic.” His travels with the Yugoslavian national team have given Kresimir the opportunity of visiting many branches and wards of the Church in many different lands, and he never misses a chance to visit with the Saints.
Kresimir is practically idolized in his hometown of Zadar, and he returns the feeling of warmth. An Italian team was so impressed by his performance in the European championships that it offered him a $200,000, three-year contract, but he turned it down, preferring to remain in Zadar.
Kresimir has a subtle sense of humor that isn’t totally translatable. As he listens and talks, even as he plays basketball, there is a mischievous smile playing at the corners of his mouth. He values his personal privacy very highly, and when he’s asked a personal question, he often gives a humorous answer that’s just plausible enough to make you wonder.
His English, like his basketball, is unorthodox but effective. In combination with his drowsy Yugoslavian accent it always seems perfectly correct, for him at least.
You can’t watch Kresimir play ball without knowing that he loves it. He grins when he’s happy, grimaces when he’s not, and hams it up all over the floor. Put Kresimir Cosic and a crowd of basketball fans together, and you’ve got instant magic.
So we looked him up when he was in Salt Lake on a visit and asked him a few questions. Here’s what happened.
Q: If there’s been a highlight in your basketball career, what was it?
Kresimir: I played on three championship teams in Zadar, and it was always a highlight, because when we win something over there, the whole town celebrates. Everyone dances; there is no work; everything closes. You can go outside, and you can see it’s a completely different place for a week. Those are maybe the most impressive things. In the United States there is not so much celebration. In Zadar we have happiness. We have a good time winning the game.
Q: You were drafted by two pro teams. Weren’t you interested in the money?
Kresimir: Money is not the main thing. You try to live happily. If you can do it, you do. I try to live so that I feel good, and if I feel good, then I am living well.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for young basketball players?
Kresimir: First, every person who wants to play basketball has to have temperament.
Kresimir: You’ve got to be alive. You’ve got to like to play. That really helps.
Q: Anything else?
Kresimir: I always try to be a complete player. A player should learn as many things as he can, but he has to decide what is best for his own position and work hardest on that. I try to learn everything. I know a thousand things that I never use because I just play center. But I think that even if you play a specific position, you should learn everything else so you can help the other players. But you need to learn specific things especially well.
Q: What kind of a training program did you use when you were a young player in Yugoslavia?
Kresimir: When I started to play I used to shoot by myself every morning, and that’s the best thing you can do when you are young—just play with the ball, and play on one basket, three against three, two against two, one against one. That’s the way I developed; then I just played. When you are 15 or 16 years old you may begin to work a bit harder and start to work on certain things. I never had any specialty. I just tried to do what everyone else was doing. I usually played at guard, because no one else in my hometown was tall, and I was doing whatever they were doing, so I developed pretty good ball handling.
Q: If some tall, young reader wants to play center, what are some of the things he should be working on?
Kresimir: He should try to work like a forward—move out and in, run every time there’s a fast break, work on those things that really give trouble to big men, and always be as quick as possible. Faking is one of the most important things for a center to learn. If a center can fake, it’s really hard to stop him. If he can fake, then go left or right, he can shoot all kinds of shots from inside 15 feet. You can shoot any way you want to from that close. You’ve got to have fast legs and hands. You’ve got to have coordination. That’s why I think tall men need coordination drills like dancing or rhythmic exercises. It’s really necessary, because when you’re tall your leg may go off in some direction, and you don’t know where it is, and you don’t have any idea of how you’re going to get it back. It really takes coordination.
Q: You’re an excellent outside shooter, something many centers can’t claim. How did you develop this?
Kresimir: When I used to play at center, I wouldn’t get the ball for five minutes, so I’d step out and play next to the guards. Then when it was my turn, I’d shoot it.
Q: Would you advise centers to get outside occasionally?
Kresimir: I think it’s good to stay in the center. Try to get all the tip-ins you can, and whenever you get a good shot, take it, of course. I like to get the ball and then see the situation. Whatever my opponents do, I do the opposite. You kind of let them commit themselves.
Q: You’re famous for your unbelievable passes. Can you tell young players how to develop that kind of passing?
Kresimir: I don’t know. In my hometown everybody does it. We just play that kind of playground ball. It’s kind of a feeling. You play by the feeling. You hit a man before he comes in there. That’s why I sometimes make really bad passes; the man starts to go, I throw the ball, and then he stops.
Q: It’s obvious to anyone who has seen you play that you enjoy yourself. What do you enjoy doing most on the basketball court?
Kresimir: Basketball is a beautiful game. I don’t think there are many games where you can really have fun like in basketball. It’s fun when you pass, block shots, jump—you know. That’s why I think it’s important how you feel when the crowd is up. In Zadar when the crowd gets up, it’s a crazy house. I have played all over the world, but I wouldn’t change that crowd for any other. We’ve got 2,700 seats, and our place is just too small. Six thousand people try to squeeze in, so it’s loud, and you can hear it. If 7:30 is game time, at 5:30 the house is full. It’s so full that if you don’t get there early, it’s all over.
Q: Do you think the crowd can really make a difference in the way a player performs?
Kresimir: Yes. You play much better if the crowd is up. Sometimes you don’t feel good, or you have to study, or you have pain or are sick or something; then the crowd can wake you up.
Q: You surprised a lot of people when you joined the Church. Could you tell us something about your conversion?
Kresimir: I had never heard about the Church before I came here. In Yugoslavia most of the young people are completely atheistic, and that’s the way I lived. When I came to Provo I didn’t change. I was an atheist for two years while I was in Provo. Nobody was farther from becoming a Mormon than I was. I just lived my way, and people lived their way. I obeyed all the rules of BYU, tried to be as good as I could, and tried to play ball and do my studying and other things. When I was a junior, I decided to figure out a few things. I had things I wanted to know.
I didn’t decide to join the Church because of any one thing. There were some things that I wanted to know. I had a few questions that no one could answer. It just happened. We as Mormons believe in personal things everyone can know by himself. It all depends on how bad you want to know something. That’s the whole point. If we have a desire in the Church to know something, we will know it; there’s no question about that. If something is really bothering you, you probably go to somebody for advice. If it’s football you want to know about—what kind of a play you are going to play—you can ask me, and I don’t have any idea. I just can’t help. It’s the same if you’re going to the wrong church. They can’t give you an answer. So you ask, and find out, and you join the true church. So I just decided to join the Church.
Q: I’ve heard that the Book of Mormon impressed you very much when you were studying the Church. Is this true?
Kresimir: Of course. You just read the book and want to get baptized—and that’s it.
Q: Who gave you the book?
Kresimir: You can buy those books for 50 cents.
Q: What impressed you about the Book of Mormon?
Kresimir: Well, it’s certainly the best book I have ever read. There’s no question about that. The book applies to today’s people much more than in the days when Joseph Smith translated it, because it speaks about the way it is now. I was traveling all over the world, and I saw many places, and I saw most of the prophecies being fulfilled; it’s amazing. That really is a good book. There are many things in it that are coming true now.
Q: Were your friends in Yugoslavia surprised when they learned you had joined the Church?
Kresimir: You bet they were surprised. That’s the last thing they thought was going to happen.
Q: You are a national hero. Has your popularity suffered since you joined the Church? Do people think you are strange or weird?
Kresimir: Almost everyone thinks I’m crazy anyway, so that’s nothing new. As far as popularity goes, I just live my life normally and play because I have fun. Now people know I’m a Mormon; some of them don’t think becoming a Mormon was too smart a thing to do—most of them don’t—but they just have to take me that way, and that’s it.
Q: Did joining the Church change your goals in life?
Kresimir: Of course. We talk all the time about being born again. Especially if you have lived the way I did, you better be born completely. You don’t just get in the middle. You’ve got to change all things.
Q: Have you been happier since becoming a member of the Church?
Kresimir: Of course. And if I hadn’t known I would be, I wouldn’t have been baptized.
Q: I’ve heard that while you were at the Y you spent quite a bit of time speaking to firesides and other youth groups.
Kresimir: When I was baptized I changed completely. It’s a completely different story to be a Mormon and a non-Mormon. I didn’t like to speak in public, but I got to thinking later on, “I have to.” There are some things we’ve got to help others with; it doesn’t make any difference if we like it or not. I like to live and I like to have fun. It was kind of uncomfortable to have to speak all the time. But it was okay, if people wanted to hear me. I told them what I thought, not what they wanted to hear.
Q: Speaking of fun, have you found that joining the Church has interfered with your having fun?
Kresimir: I think that’s really the best part, because you can really have much bigger fun. I mean like when we talk about sin; sin does not seem so bad the day you do it. Of course you have fun when you go to parties and that, but you have so many troubles afterwards. It’s not worth it at all. And this gospel is really nice now and afterwards also.
I really believe that living the gospel is fun, but it is hard. It’s hard to really live it. It’s not hard if you don’t. You can be a member on paper with everyone and do some of the same things. It’s not hard to play with the team if you can just sit on the bench, if you don’t have to practice or anything. But if you’ve got to go all the time, then it’s kind of difficult.
But I don’t think it’s worthwhile to ask if there is any sacrifice. There’s no sacrifice at all. You don’t sacrifice anything when you invest five cents and receive a thousand dollars in return.
Q: I’ve heard that you’re quite a student of the scriptures. Is this true?
Kresimir: No, I just read normally. I believe that the scriptures are the best part of literature, so why not read them? I used to spend hours reading magazines—just to pass the time. Or I’ve played cards for days and days and nights and nights, and I’ve smoked and drunk and all those things—just to pass the time! I still like to read magazines or the funnies sometimes or do things just to pass the time, but most of the time, when you’re able to get the time, it’s stupid to just let it pass. Of course, I’m not telling anybody else how to spend his time.
Q: What have you learned from your world travels?
Kresimir: I got a chance to talk to people. That’s why we are all here. The gospel really teaches you to try. You have to meet the people. You really can get acquainted; you can get inside and enjoy the way different people live.