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Casper College Mens Basketball

Casper College's Antun Maricevic goes in for a layup during the T-Birds' game against Northwest College on Jan. 24 at Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym in Casper.

Two years ago, Antun Maricevic was a standout at Longmont Christian High School in Colorado. He had moved from his family’s small sheep herding farm in Croatia to Colorado in hopes of opportunity.

Now, after two seasons at Casper College, Maricevic made the decision he had been waiting for in order to open even more doors.

Maricevic announced on Twitter on Saturday his commitment to the University of South Florida. The decision came one week after his final visit to the school in Tampa.

“My shoulders felt really heavy,” Maricevic said of the decision-making process. “But I just feel relief now.”

Maricevic had a long line of suitors by the time he announced his decision. Transfers and high school graduates alike had already made their commitments, leaving the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Maricevic as one of the best big men in the country available.

He visited Tulsa two days after seeing South Florida, but that trip did not resonate as much as the previous one did. Nebraska made a strong final push while BYU and Stephen F. Austin also had a presence on the Casper College campus during the season. When the sophomore made his decision, Utah State, Wichita State, Arizona, Georgia Tech, Kansas and USC all had also contacted Maricevic.

But when South Florida head coach Brian Gregory came to visit, he brought a mixtape with him. With that combination of game film, he illustrated hope for Maricevic’s role in the Bulls’ system. As the sophomore looked on, he easily imagined himself playing that role.

“I had a lot of schools call that didn’t even offer me,” Maricevic said. “South Florida was there all year.”

All of those colleges continued to call and turn up on campus as the Thunderbirds’ season continued into March. The 20-year old Croatian started to get pulled into numerous directions just as his team needed him focused on the court the most. The situation got significantly worse as the T-Birds’ other big man, Octavion Corley, missed the final 10 games as he healed from a concussion.

The T-Birds needed even more from Maricevic at the most critical time of the season. On top of that, he had major NCAA Division I programs as a near constant presence at practice.

“He wanted to be a really good teammate and very good in his role that he played on our team,” Casper College head coach Dan Russell said. “He was trying to shut the recruitment out to give everything he had to our program. He did a pretty good job with that. Also keeping a level head and staying coachable and playing hard for us.”

Added Maricevic: “Coach Russell and the staff helped me. They just told me and reassured me that the schools were going to be there at the end of the year.”

Maricevic averaged just seven minutes per game as a freshman but matured into a 25.7-minute starter for the T-Birds this past season. He finished his final year in Casper averaging 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 67.3 percent from the field.

As the T-Birds marched toward the NJCAA Region IX Tournament, Maricevic was at his best. He came off the bench to score 21 points (8 of 9 from the floor) in 24 minutes to help Casper College upset No. 16 Sheridan College. In an upset of No. 19 Gillette College three days later, he had 13 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes.

In the Region IX tournament play-in victory over Western Wyoming Community College, Maricevic played 36 minutes and scored 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting. The T-Birds’ season ended with a loss to Region IX South sub-region champ Otero Junior College in which he scored 15 points.

“When we first got him he was timid and just kind of led by example and we tried to get him more vocal,” Russell said. “He’s really stepped outside of his comfort zone. Necessarily to overcome. Fun to watch his growth as a person and as a player.

“Really proud of him and can’t say enough about him and what he’s done the last two years and what’s he done for us.”

Maricevic thanked those, coaches and teammates included, that surrounded him for the past two years as a reason for his positive impression of his time as a T-Bird.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. This was a really hard season for us but I think I grew as a player and as a person.”

The NCAA’s spring signing period begins April 11.

South Florida went 10-22 in head coach Brian Gregory’s first season. Maricevic is eligible to play right away next season.

Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyTrib

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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