Vladimir Stimac, Crvena Zvezda

Mar 02, 2009 by Aca Ostojic, Serbia Print
Vladimir Stimac, Crvena Zvezda
Vladimir Stimac - Crvena ZvezdaCrvena Zvezda fans crowned themselves a new hero back on December 9, in the midst of the Eurocup regular season, as their team was beating PGE Turow 97-69 for the second of five consecutive regular season victories. After the game, almost 6,000 of those fans spent several minutes chanting the name of 2.09-meter center Vladimir Stimac, in his first season with the club. He was just one of several good contributors for Crvena Zvezda that night, finishing with 10 points and 6 rebounds on perfect shooting, but the fans were honoring Stimac for more than his numbers. Indeed, win or lose during Crvena Zvezda's many ups and downs in the Eurocup and Adriatic League since then, the fans have kept chanting the name of Stimac. In this 21-year-old son of Belgrade who had already played in two other countries before finding his way back home, they have found the Crvena Zvezda player who embodies their slogan: heart on the court. "Oh, how happy I was as they were chanting my name!" Stimac said in the locker room after that December game. "It is beyond description that kind of feeling. I was in a state of trance. The emotions were too strong."

Stimac learned basketball in another club of the Serbian capital, Postar, under a female coach, Ljilja Markovic. Later he moved to Beovuk 72, one of the best-known Serbian basketball schools, where Dejan Milojevic and Kosta Perovic were nurtured. "As a cadet, I was MVP, best scorer and best rebounder at the Serbian under-16 championships," Stimac recalls. "Later, in junior categories, I was the best scorer in the country, and getting called to the national team was a prize for that." Stimac went on to play the 2004 under-18 European Championships in Belgrade as a member of the gold-medal Serbia and Montenegro national team, averaging 3.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in a bench role. "Before the final game at the 2005 Euro, people from Zalgiris called me to move there," he explains. "I signed a three-year contract with the Lithuanian champions, led by the legendary Arvydas Sabonis. But I was only 17 and there was no space for my minutes because Tanoka Beard and Hano Mottola were the chiefs under the boards."

While surprising people in Kaunas by learning the Lithuanian language pretty well, Stimac spent the entire 2005-06 season in the Sabonis basketball school, called Zalgiris B, which played in the Lithuanian second division, averaging averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds per game. The next season, he played for the first time with the main Zalgiris team. In the Lithuanian League, he averaged 3.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in seven games, in the Euroleague 4 points in two games. He also played five games for Zalgiris B before he was loaned to Latvian team Valmiera-Lacplesa in February 2007. There, he shined in Baltic League play with 18.6 points and 12.8 rebounds on average, being chosen to the all-Baltic League second team and as the Bosman player of the year in Latvia. In the summer of 2007, Stimac won one more European gold as a member of the Serbian under-20 national team. He played 8 games averaging 6.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. Last season, Stimac returned to Valmiera, where he was the team's best scorer (17.1 ppg.) and rebounder (11.0 rpg.) in 20 Baltic League appearances. At the end of the season he was named Latvia's Bosman player of the year for second time.

Vladimir Stimac - Crvena Zvezda"Last summer, I had offers from Italy, Greece and Poland but I decided on Crvena Zvezda in order to grow into a solid player working with Coach Svetislav Pesic," he explains. "It is a privilege working with an expert like him. Of course, my wish is to win trophies and I believe they will come. I am ready to leave my heart on the floor. I am like a pit bull. When I am dueling, my teeth are bared."

Indeed, Stimac's game is a rare combination of athleticism and emotion. After each basket scored, Stimac celebrates with the fans in the manner of one of Crvena Zvezda's soccer legends, Dragan Dzajic. The equally legendary Pesic doesn’t like the way Stimac celebrates because, while he does so, an opponent might run a successful fastbreak. "Coach finally gave up on me, though," Stimac says. "I tried to be cool and to restrain myself, but nothing worked. I can't be another person: emotion - that is me."

Once with Crvena Zvezda, Stimac chose jersey number 30 for a curious reason. "Last season,. I played in number 15, but my desire is to become doubly better," he explains. This season, Stimac has shown very good skills in the paint even as he did all the dirty work that Pesic asked of him. "The most important thing is that all I have reached in my career I did working really hard," Stimac says. "Speaking in numbers, I can say my basketball talent was 5 percent and 95 percent was hard work." Those numbers are leading quickly to others: Stimac is averaging 10.4 points in 10 Eurocup games this season. In six of those games, his performance index rating has been 15 or higher. On a per-minute basis over the whole season, Stimac ranks second among all Eurocup players in scoring, fourth in rebounds and seventh in performance index rating.

More important than numbers, however, is that Crvena Zvezda fans have found a new hero.