By Randy York, The N-Sider
Aleks Maric, now 32-years-old, is 6-foot-11 and weighs 275 pounds, the same height and weight he was 11 years ago when Nebraska’s first-team All-Big 12 center left Lincoln.
Maric (pictured above) will be introduced Sunday night during Nebraska’s basketball game against Illinois. His one shining moment inside Pinnacle Bank Arena will be even more emotional than the reflections he processed on a 21-hour flight from Sydney, Australia, to Nebraska.
“Honestly, it’s very emotional coming back to Nebraska where things started for me and I had the best time of my life,” Maric told me Friday afternoon. “The plane ride here was a long one and I spent the whole time thinking about my four years at Nebraska. It was a dream come true.
“Nebraska was my family,” Maric said. “The way Nebraska and Nebraskans made me feel was second to none, and that’s why they say there’s no place like Nebraska. I became a self-sufficient young man. I came here in my late teens. I had to grow up into a man a lot quicker and that helped me in my life after Nebraska.
“I learned to become a gentleman because I believe this state is full of proper and genuine people,” Maric said. “That’s helped me with relationships outside of basketball and in basketball as a chosen professional career.”
Can Jordy Tshimanga Follow in the Same Footsteps that Maric Created?
One of Friday’s best highlights was Maric meeting Jordy Tshimanga, Nebraska’s 6-foot-11, 275-pound freshman center (No. 32 pictured above) from Montreal, Quebec.
Talk about a unique connection and a remarkable fact that goes beyond two post players with the same height and weight choosing to play at Nebraska.
Media, coaches, players and fans marvel at Tshimanga’s development, even though he has only played basketball for five years.
There is good reason for Jordy to look eye-to-eye with Maric, a former Husker center who did not play basketball until he was 16.
Maric follows the Huskers online whenever possible. “When I see Jordy, I see a bit of myself,” he said. “He definitely has the body for it and from what I’ve heard, he has the passion for it. He's going in the right direction every day.”
How good was Maric? He finished his collegiate career in the top five in both points (1,630) and rebounds (1,015). He is also one of only two Huskers to have 1,000 points and rebounds. Since leaving Nebraska, Maric was part of two European Championships, including the Euroleague in 2011. He also competed in the 2012 London Olympics and won multiple World Cup titles.
Aleks on Jordy: Anything’s Possible If You Put Your Heart and Mind to It
“I was very fortunate,” said Maric (pictured above representing Australia in the 2012 Olympics). “It shows that anything’s possible if you put your heart and mind to it and do a lot of hard work.”
Maric believes Jordy’s future is bright. “It’s up to him,” Maric said. “Nebraska motivates you to do whatever you want to accomplish. It challenges you to go through the system and become an example not only for this university, but for yourself.”
Nebraska has a reputation to compete at the highest level athletically, academically and in life. “You can do whatever you want at Nebraska if you’re willing to work,” Maric said. “I was at a high school in New Jersey when Scott Spinelli, an assistant coach at Nebraska, asked me if I was interested in playing at Nebraska and in the Big 12 Conference. He wanted me to take an official visit, and I said, ‘hey, why not?’
“So I came to Lincoln when Coach (Barry) Collier was here at the time. In my first visit to the Devaney Center, I got goosebumps. I don’t know what happened to me. I just knew this place was so special. I went around and met everybody. I just felt so warm and like I belonged here.
“Believe it or not that was the one and only official college visit I took,” Maric said. “I didn’t visit any other college after coming to Nebraska. Others were interested. UCLA, Arizona and Oregon all asked me to visit their schools.”
Maric Proud He Had the Courage to Embrace Nebraska’s Love at First Sight
To this day, Maric is proud he had the courage to embrace the essence of the college athletic experience after he fell in love with Nebraska at first sight.
“If I’m going to be somewhere halfway across the world, away from my family, away from my friends and missing out on Christmas, birthdays or the other good stuff, I want to be somewhere that comes the closest possible way to compete and be part of a big happy family,” Maric said. “I’ve played in so many countries, and the only place I still feel that same way is this place – Nebraska.”
The proof was going from very little knowledge or experience to major college basketball. For Alex Maric, it started with individual workouts every morning at 4:30 a.m. until 6:30 a.m. before school started, then from 4:30 p.m. to 6 o’clock for seven days straight for two years.
“I decided I wanted to give everything I’ve got and see what happens,” Maric said. “There’s a lot of money to be made in professional sports and especially in basketball in Europe. Everybody dreams big, but you have to be realistic in what’s the best for you.”
Aleks Preferred to Start on a Pro Team Instead of Ride the Bench in the NBA
Maric felt he could make more money in the NBA, but was not willing to sit on the bench. “I decided I can be happy in Europe playing 30 or 40 minutes and be successful,” he said. “You can make and have more money but does money buy happiness?”
His last collegiate game was in the national college all-star game in the 2008 NCAA Final Four in San Antonio. “It was a nice way to end my college career,” he said, “and it was a great experience to play and enjoy the game one last time in the U.S.
“If you really, really want something – and I think that’s what Nebraska stands for – it is possible, but only if you give it everything you can. If you do that, you will achieve it. The best place to put yourself in the future, whether it be sport or career-wise after sport, is Nebraska. There truly is no other place like it.”
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