Balsa Dragovic, a 6-foot-11 power forward, was born in Montenegro but moved to Serbia nine years ago. After attending grade school in Serbia, Balsa and his family decided that a U.S. high school would be the best choice for him. After enrolling at Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary in Montebello, Calif., Balsa was faced with not only the normal challenges of high school, but also a whole new language and culture.
Having to essentially be an adult at age 14, he adjusted well to these changes and thrived both in the classroom and on the basketball court. Basketball runs in the Dragovic family. Both of Balsa’s parents played professional basketball, and even his grandmother played basketball in her youth. Last fall, Balsa committed to continue his academic and basketball career at Harvard, where he will be a member of the Class of 2019. I had a chance to interview Balsa last month.
Why did you choose Harvard?
Harvard is the best university in the world, it’s located in one of the best cities in the world and it has one of the best college basketball programs in the entire NCAA. All the other schools that recruited me had good basketball, but I always thought, what about the academics? School has to be a priority. I’ve always worked hard in the classroom, so I didn’t want to sell myself short by going to a college that has a good basketball program, but just okay academics.
When did you know Harvard was the place for you?
Harvard was always my dream growing up, but after my visit in November, I just didn’t have any doubt about it. After I met coach Amaker and the staff and the Harvard community in general, I knew it was the place for me.
What do you think you’ll bring to the Harvard basketball team?
I’m disciplined, hard-working and ambitious. I hate losing more than I love winning. I hate losing.
What are your goals?
My main team goal is to win the Ivy title. My dream is for Harvard to have nine of them when I graduate. Another team goal is to be in the Sweet 16 (at least), which seems like a natural step for the team this year. For me personally, my goal is to gain confidence and trust from coach Amaker.
A lot of people are saying that Harvard’s run atop the Ivy League is over. What would you say to those people?
That’s just another thing that’s going to make us work harder. What we have to focus on is the people around us and the team; we just have to make sure we have trust in each other. Plus, when you have so many non-believers, it’s always fun to prove them wrong.
What are you planning on studying at Harvard?
I’m undecided. There are a bunch of fields I’m interested in, such as architecture, engineering, diplomacy, law and foreign languages. (I’m fluent in Serbian, English, Spanish and Italian, plus I’m hoping to learn a fifth language at Harvard. Maybe Chinese, like (teammate) Zena (Edosomwan)?) I’m just going to find my passion at Harvard, and then my ultimate goal is, one day (hopefully when I’m done playing pro basketball), to have a real job that I really enjoy.
Which college or NBA player do you model your game after?
Dirk Nowitzki for sure, and Frank Kaminsky. I like both of those guys because of their versatility, their ability to guard different positions, and their ability to play inside out.
What are your thoughts on the big 2016 recruiting class Harvard is bringing in?
It’s awesome. It just shows that Harvard basketball never stops, that we’re going to be better and better every year.
Have you been in contact with Harvard’s other incoming freshmen basketball recruits?
Yes, with all of them. Tommy McCarthy (fellow Harvard 2019 commit) and I have been playing on the same AAU team for two years, so we’ve been in contact essentially every week, just talking about how excited we are for fall to come.
Did you and Tommy McCarthy commit together?
No. One day I opened my Twitter, and I saw that Tommy McCarthy had committed to Harvard. I thought, ‘That’s awesome.’ We were roommates on AAU road trips, and we used to always joke that maybe we would be roommates in college, too. A few weeks later, the day I was committing, he texted me and said, “What’s the deal, are you going to commit to Harvard?” But unfortunately, we can’t choose our roommates freshman year.
What would be your message to kids trying to decide which college to attend (like you were one year ago)?
I would tell them to think about what’s going to happen with their lives and their families. When the ball stops bouncing, what’s going to happen then? Harvard really is the best place. What if, God forbid, something happens to you? You won’t have to worry if you go to Harvard, because you’ll have a diploma that will be accepted anywhere. You can go to another school, but when people hear Harvard in Serbia, China, Africa or Australia, they know it’s Harvard. It’s simple.