Split View

Tania Ganguli

Two pieces of Vedran Vukusic’s identity come together in his bedroom.

A big, square, purple poster is tacked to one of the walls. White writing on it reads, “Offense wins games, defense wins championships.” A small Croatian flag is taped a few feet away.

It is one of many in the apartment.

“Summer, that’s the best part,” says Vukusic, leaning his 6-foot-8 frame across his bed. He can’t help but smile when thinking about his hometown of Split, Croatia. “My coach calls it the best hidden place in the world.”

Vukusic’s home — on the coast of the Adriatic Sea — is where he and fellow Northwestern basketball players Davor Duvancic and Ivan Tolic grew up. Split is a few hours by car from parts of the country that were engulfed by a brutal, four-year war following Croatia’s 1991 declaration of independence from the former Yugoslavia.

But scenes of war aren’t the first thing that pops into these Croatians’ minds when they think of their native land.

Tolic can’t put into words what Split is like, but all you have to do is take a look at his bedroom walls in Evanston to get an idea.

One wall is covered with images of Split. There’s a poster of an aerial view of the town’s coast and another showing a secluded beach surrounded by cliffs towering above two small beachside houses. A Croatian national soccer team scarf hangs above Tolic’s giant Croatian flag on the opposite wall.

Amidst these icons, flags and pictures, it’s no wonder Croatian is heard as often as English.

“This apartment is technically part of Croatia,” Tolic jokes. “Here and the Croatian embassy.”

Duvancic and Vukusic traded Croatia’s beaches and mild, coastal winters two years ago for NU’s biting cold and Big Ten basketball. Tolic followed a year later. Although the players say they miss their hometown, they agree they are three lucky guys.

The trio, all forwards, say they were lucky to have gotten the chance to play basketball and study in the United States. In Europe they would have had to choose between academics and sports.

But 13 years ago their luck manifested itself in a totally different way. When Vukusic, Tolic and Duvancic were 8 years old, war broke out in Croatia, a country slightly smaller than West Virginia. Their families and homes were mostly spared.