Injury-ridden Tolic Holds On For Last Season (Men’s Basketball)

Andrew Simon

By Andrew SimonThe Daily Northwestern

Injuries just won’t leave Ivan Tolic alone.

Although the fifth-year junior center has spent more time in the trainer’s room than on the court at Northwestern, he’s not leaving basketball alone just yet.

Tolic spent last season away from the game after he was ruled a medical non-counter, meaning his scholarship wouldn’t be counted against NU’s allotted number because he couldn’t play. But after his assorted ailments improved over the course of the year, he petitioned to have the ruling reversed and won.

So nearly two years removed from his last competitive basketball game, Tolic returned to the court as a backup center and veteran leader.

“It’s been extremely tough,” said Tolic, who has suffered through four knee surgeries, a broken hand and a broken thumb. “The worst thing is you have a picture of yourself as a player three years ago, but right now you’re a completely different player … I used to be able to easily dunk before, and I could move a lot better. It’s a different game without knees than it is with knees.”

Tolic’s NU career began in 2002, and the injuries soon followed. Coach Bill Carmody had recruited Tolic from Split, Croatia at the urging of fellow Croatians Davor Duvancic and Vedran Vukusic, who were freshmen at NU at the time.

After redshirting a year due to injury, Tolic played in 21 games during the 2003-04 season, starting 13. But he managed to appear in only two games the following season, and it appeared his career was over.

Although Tolic wasn’t part of the team last season, he didn’t forsake the game entirely. Instead, he spent time coaching kids, an experience he said brought back some of his love for the game and made him miss it. Spending the summer working at a sales and marketing firm solidified his desire to return to basketball.

“After experiencing corporate America, I thought coming back and playing basketball was a much better idea,” Tolic said. “Also, there are two young Croatians on the team (freshmen Nikola Baran and Ivan Peljusic), and I know how tough of a time it was for me when I came here. So I thought I could help them.”

Baran and Peljusic haven’t been the only ones benefiting from Tolic’s return.

“He looks like he’s about 35 years old, like he’s older than me for crying out loud,” 24-year-old Tim Doyle said of 23-year-old Tolic. “But he helps everyone on the team when they’re down. He’s the first guy to come over and pat you on the back … The adversity he’s gone through has helped him mature, but he lends his experience to everyone on the team.”

Tolic has also been able to stay healthy enough to log 143 minutes this season after playing only 219 over his first four. The numbers are modest – 1.3 points and 1.5 rebounds per game – but Tolic is just happy to contribute.

“I just try to help coach Carmody as much as I can,” Tolic said. “I’m an old guy and everybody knows that. My body’s been done for a few years, but I’m trying my best when I’m in there.”

Tolic earned his bachelor’s degree from NU last year and now is enrolled in the communication studies graduate program. He will complete that at the end of the year.

Even though he will still have one year of eligibility left, Tolic said he will be ready to leave basketball and the injuries behind after this season.