The escape from war to basketball success

How a bosnian talent became a swedish King

13 JUNE 2015,
Södertälje Kings is the winner for the third time in a row. Photo by David Nilsson Hamne
Södertälje Kings is the winner for the third time in a row. Photo by David Nilsson Hamne

On the floor there is a thin coat of champagne mixed together with wet confetti. Music is booming and a green shirted audience are celebrating their champions. We are in Täljehallen, in Södertälje, a medium-sized city in Sweden. An industrial town with several sports teams at an elite level. The best team of all is the basketball team, Kings. And the king himself is the 39 year old coach, Vedran Bosnic.

– I love being coach here, says Vedran Bosnic, who's had a meteoric career as a trainer.

After a long international career as a player in 9 different European clubs, among them the Lithuanian Lietuvos Rytas, he finished his career with a couple of seasons in the somewhat unknown Swedish league. Immediately after shelving the ball he shouldered the trainers jacket and he has, in five years as head coach, taken his Södertälje Kings to three straight wins in the Swedish championship, he has been awarded as the best coach in the league and he has been assigned as manager of the Swedish national team. A turbo charged success story, and he is no doubt one of Europes most interesting trainers.

– People tell me that everything is happening too fast, I don't know why they say that, because sometimes I would like things to go even faster.

But his career as a player and now as a trainer came close to an abrupt ending before it even started. Years of elite basketball were just days from being an isolated dream.

– I could have been stuck in Sarajevo during the war, for four years. What would have happened then?

April 1992. Serbian artillery has been mobilising its forces in the hills around Sarajevo for months. The Bosnian war is in its early stages. And when Serbian nationalists are firing on a demonstration on the 5th of april and two activists are killed it becomes the starting signal for a military offensive against the city. The 2nd of may all the roads in and out of Sarajevo are blocked and the citizens become victims of artillerists and snipers that are lurking in the mountains. On a crowded bus, seven days before the city is closed, the 15 year old basketball talent Vedran Bosnic is able to escape.

– The bus was only supposed to take 30 passengers, but I think we were over 120 people on it. Maybe that gives you an idea about how crowded it was?

Vedran made it out before the ancient city was seiged for several years. He and his parents made it to his mothers other homeland, Croatia.

– Sarajevo was a closed town for almost four years. It was a horrible situation for the ones who were left behind. I've heard many bad stories from that time. Stories no one should have to experience.

The siege on Sarajevo was the longest in modern war history. Thousands of civilians died, among them some of his relatives such as his aunt and several of his cousins.

– It's not until now I understand how dangerous it was before we made it out of there. I was in the middle of an oncoming war. The grenades were flying over my head, they were coming from the mountains, landing in the city.

He's wondering what would have happened if he hadn't gotten out before the roads were closed. The risk is offcourse big that he never would have had his long playing career and then wound up in Sweden.

– Life is strange. If I had been stuck I would have done something totally different today, it's hard to imagine, he says and concludes: – The war started when I was fifteen, that's when my childhood ended. It probably helped after all, I got to take responsability of my life and my career.

Vedran started a new life in Croatia with his parents. He says that the basketball helped him tune out the bad thoughts, it made him think about something else and move on with his life. It gave him the possibility to dream of success, with the NBA-star Drazen Petrovic as his big idol. He found a team in Croatia. And soon the talent had offers to play for several foreign clubs. It started with Italy and that was followed by many different countries and a lot of experiense. He highlights some of the trainers who have ment a lot to him: Mladen Ostojicm, Dule Vujosevicm, Jonas Zazlauskas and Vlado Vanjak among others. – I played in many places in Europe, made new friends everywhere and at an early age I learned to take care of myself. When I turned 22 I was over 30 when it comes to experience.

– The highlight of my career as a player was when I played for Lietuvos Rytas. It's the best club that I've played for, they are a top club in Europe and a lot of stars has played for them.

The season 2007/2008 he played his first, and only, season in Södertälje. After some injury problems he chose to be the assisting coach for the club, and two years later he became head coach. After that everything happened very quickly. His first season he was named coach of the year. He followed that by taking the team to the national finals four years in a row, whereof the latest three ended with a gold. He has also been assigned manager for the swedish national team. That he coaches alongside Kings.

– Life is fantastic after all, think of all the possibilities. I think that it's important to believe in your abilities and in the work you do.

And that's what his training philosophy is all about, to make the players understand how great they really are.

– A lot of players think that they have reached their maximum capacity when they have done something good, but that is often not the case, they can do even better. It's up to me as a coach to make them understand how to get there.

Obviously the road there is not strewn with roses. The players in Kings often talk about how much they have to train, but also about how greatful they are to get a thorough education, wich is Vedrans intention.

– What makes me really happy is when former players call me and I get to hear about how great they're doing. Dino Pita for example, or Tobias Borg who is playing in Bilbao. A couple of days ago Asane Sene, who played for us last year, called me from Argentina. He thanked us for all that we in Kings has done for him and what it had ment for him. That's great!

The war never stopped Vedran. He was lucky to get out of Sarajevo and basketball helped him to form a prosperous life and career.

– But it makes me sad when I see all the civil wars in the world today. It's so unnecessary, it's stupid. During my career I'v gotten to know people from different countries-, cultures- and religions, and we've had no problem living- and having fun together.