By Charlton Azuoma and Austin Block
A little over a year after moving to the United States from Serbia, Danilo Dragovic ’11, younger brother of UCLA basketball standout Nikola Dragovic, will be joining the class of 2011.
Danilo Dragovic attended a specialized economic high school in Serbia for two years and was playing for a small privately owned basketball club in Belgrade before transferring to San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara for his junior year.
“The reason why I didn’t come straight to Harvard-Westlake is because I learned too late about the school,” he said. “My brother and family were already working with Santa Barbara and San Marcos, but it [Harvard-Westlake] definitely seemed like a great option for my last year of high school.”
Though always eager to come to the United States, Dragovic admitted that it was a little difficult at first because he wasn’t used to American culture.
“I struggled the first two months because, you know, the people, the system, and the language were all different… I just tried to study hard until I got used to it… It’s hard to be without your parents for so long,” he said.
Dragovic was born in Montenegro. He moved to Serbia at age 10, though the region that encompasses both nations was at the time unified as a single country: Serbia and Montenegro.
He said that there are a lot of similarities between California and Belgrade, Serbia.
He spent his first year stateside living with a host family but was unable to play varsity basketball for his school because of CIF transfer restrictions. He had to play JV basketball instead.
The Dragovic family is not only a basketball-loving family, but it’s also an education-oriented family. Dragovic is a talented basketball player, but Los Angeles Times sportswriter Eric Sondheimer also described him as a student with “outstanding academics.”
Dragovic was very impressed by the balance of strong academics and a competitive athletic program at Harvard-Westlake.
“[Harvard-Westlake] is a great program,” Dragovic said. “Harvard-Weslake has amazing academic and basketball achievements and that is what made me interested in the school. To have [the] opportunity to play basketball and get a good education are two [of the] most important things in my career.”
After hearing about Harvard-Westlake from his brother, he decided to transfer. In late June, the 6’5″ Dragovic played in a tournament with the basketball team in Fairfax. He then toured the school with Head of Athletics Audrius Barzdukas.
“He’s a super respectful, super polite person, and it was very refreshing walking around campus with him,” Barzdukas said. “I’m excited to see a kid that excited.
“To see him in Blaise Eitner’s classroom, with the lizard and stuff … seeing the sculpture area, seeing the dark room … he was super fired up, super excited, like ‘wow, I get to go to a place like this.’”
“I have a lot of interest[s] for the future, but right now I am focusing to get a feeling [of] what could be the right thing to choose for my college degree,” Dragovic said. “I like track and field. I actually did it last year. It is interesting but I am not sure if [I] would want to do it this year.
“I love arts besides sports, like painting, drawing and writing sometimes, so maybe I will continue doing some of those activities.”
Dragovic said he had no problems fitting in with players on the team because he is already familiar with a few of them including Zena Edosomwan ’12 and Damiene Cain ’11 from club basketball.
“I already know some of the people on wthe team because I’ve played with some of them before… It’s a great opportunity to play with all of those guys …I think they’re all really great guys,” Dragovic said.
After only a few games with his new team, his teammates already enjoy playing with him.
“He’s a great teammate and a phenomenal passer. His basketball IQ is very high,” teammate Josh Hearlihy ’12 said.
The team was in need of perimeter shooters like Dragovic; the majority of its scoring last year came from post players Cain and Erik Swoope ’10. Cain will be back this year, but Swoope is gone.
“[Dragovic] is a great outside shooter and a perfect piece to the puzzle that is our team,” Jordan Butler ’11 said. “He’s a funny kid. He has a great personality. I think we’re going to really do well this year [with him] and we could win league again.”
Dragovic is eager to join the Harvard-Westlake community.
“I’m totally excited for many reasons,” Dragovic said. “I will get a chance to meet new people, learn new things and hopefully our basketball team will have a lot of success.”