Reviewing the box score following McMaster University’s men’s basketball team’s 90-76 victory over the Western Mustangs, one stat line stands out: 21 points, seven rebounds and one assist. It is safe to say that was a huge night for Kitchener native Sasha Simic.
Simic first picked up a basketball at the age of six years old, but at the time it was just one of many sports the young athlete played. It wasn’t until Simic’s older brother began to play basketball in high school that he too started to take the sport seriously. So in the sixth grade, he decided to drop all other sports to really focus on basketball and has been playing competitively ever since.
Simic first left Kitchener three years ago to pursue his post-secondary career, attending three institutions on both sides of the border. As someone who has experienced both, Simic understands first-hand that there are pros and cons to playing in both countries.
“American basketball is a little more athletic,” Simic said. “For example they have a lot of taller guys who jump higher. But Canadian basketball is on the rise simply because they play a lot smarter.”
Although the top Canadian teams may not be as naturally athletic as the top American teams, Simic points out that Canadian teams, like the University of Carleton’s men’s basketball team, are successful because they approach the sport from a more tactical angle.
Simic, like a lot of young Canadian basketball players, has already had extensive experience playing basketball in a variety of situations.
“It has been a long journey, but a successful one,” said Simic.
Beginning in high school at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute, Simic had the opportunity to play down south at Vincennes University, a junior college in Indiana. Unfortunately for Simic, a broken leg cut his time in Indiana short.
“That process of getting back to being myself was a long eight-month process,” Simic said.
After spending a year at Collin County College in Texas following his recovery, Simic decided it was time to come back home.
“I mainly made the decision because of the new coaching staff,” said Simic. “Patrick Tatham is a well-known coach as well as a players’ coach that I had heard a lot of great things about.”
After a little push from McMaster’s director of athletics and former Toronto Raptors General Manger Glen Grunwlad, and knowing that he would be able to play in front of his support system, Simic was sold.
Simic’s support system consists of his parents, his mother’s boyfriend and grandparents, but most importantly his older brother Nemanja Simic. Anyone who has been to a home game this season knows his brother is the most vocal out of the group. Often heard chirping the officials and cheering on other teammates, but above all, supporting his brother.
“He’s a big part of my life,” said Simic. “He’s there with me before and after games, and sees me at my low and at my highs. He understands the most what I’m putting into this.”
Returning home to such an important bond after being away for two years is an experience Simic does not take for granted.
“I don’t only look up to him on the floor as a player, but off of it,” said Simic. “It’s a bond that can’t be described in words.”
Unfortunately for Simic and the Marauders, support from home has not been enough. Currently boasting a 3-13 record, the Mac men mainly struggle to close out games in the fourth quarter. One constant bright sport in all three of their wins has been the effort Simic puts in on the court.
“[Coach Tatham] has just really been challenging me these last couple of weeks, especially going into the New Year to stay aggressive and be the missing piece we’re looking for,” said Simic. “I try to come through every night, and sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. But one thing I understand is that you can’t stay in the past you have to keep moving forward.”
On Jan 24. McMaster will face their third opponent in their six-game road trip, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks who beat the Marauders in Hamilton during their last match.
“We just have to go out and compete like we did against Western,” said Simic. “Our backs are against the wall for a playoff spot so we just have to keep that in mind and play every game as if it is a playoff game from here on out.”
All hope is not lost for the Marauders if they are able to be consistent and win their next few games they have a chance to clinch a playoff spot. Like Simic said, every game going forward should be played like it is their last, or their season will come to an end a lot sooner than they would like.
Photos by Rick Zazulak