|International influence lifts Johnson C. Smith basketball fortunes|
|Players from Africa, Europe boost Golden Bulls|
|Published Friday, February 14, 2020 5:00 pm|
|PHOTO | TROY HULL|
|Johnson C. Smith forward Nenad Milenkovic, left, and center Augustine Ominu, the basketball program's first international players, have helped the Golden Bulls to a 16-7 record and second place in the CIAA Southern Division.|
Johnson C. Smith basketball has an international boost.
Senior guard/forward Nenad Milenkovic and sophomore center Augustine Ominu have provided a unique spark for the Golden Bulls, who are 16-7 overall, 10-4 in the CIAA and second in the Southern Division behind Winston-Salem State. JCSU, which was picked to finish sixth in the South in preseason polling, are proving those predictions wrong with the help of the program’s first foreign-born players.
“They brought their cultural attitudes, and their upbringings with them,” Golden Bulls coach Steve Joyner said. “Both are very much ‘yes, sir, no, sir’ types of players. They may not do everything you ask them to do, but for the most part, they attempt to very, very well.”
Smith is competing for the division title, heading into their final three games. Their regular season ends with a four-game home stand, which started Tuesday with a 70-51 win against St. Augustine’s. Livingstone travels to Brayboy Gym on Feb. 15, followed by Winston-Salem State on Feb. 19 and Shaw on Feb. 22. The CIAA tournament begins at Bojangles’ Coliseum on Feb. 25 and concludes at Spectrum Center on Feb. 29.
“We knew what we needed to do to be more successful than last season,” said Milenkovic, who is from Ivanjica, Serbia and JCSU’s first white basketball player. “We just started off with good workouts, coming to open gym—five-on-on, try[ing] to compete against each other. [We] tried to get everything on a higher level, so we don’t repeat last season. Everything is in the past.”
Milenkovic spent his first two seasons with USC Aiken before transferring to Smith. His high school coach Frank Cantadore of First Assembly Christian School, recommended that he look at Charlotte’s local HBCU. It turned out to be a perfect fit.
“Five years ago, I played in high school in Serbia as a junior,” Milenkovic said. “Coming into my senior year, I decided to go to America to play at a higher level.”
Joyner has been able to leverage Milenkovic’s scoring capabilities, whose 13.1 points per game trails only senior guard Cayse Minor’s 18.5 among Golden Bulls. Milenkovic’s 39 three-pointers are first on the team.
“Nenad Milenkovic is certainly an offensive talent, and it’s because his upbringing has been primarily around offense,” Joyner said. “Where he comes from, they did not play a lot of defense or teach a lot of defense, and he will admit to that, but certainly, he is a forward thinking offensive type of a player. We tried to utilize that.”
By comparison, Ominu, a native of Edo, Nigeria, is developing. He averages 3.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
“Augustine is certainly a rugged player,” Joyner said. “Certainly has some refinement to do, in terms of his skills and talent. He’s brought his cultural attitude in, and we’re very, very pleased with that. It’s a very good work ethic, and he too is a ‘yes, sir, no sir’ type of player.”
Ominu, who was recruited to Smith by former assistant coach Mark Sherrill from Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham saw playing basketball in the United States as an opportunity worth going for.
“The differences between where I’m from and over here in terms of basketball, they have more skills over here,” Ominu said. “You have to fight for your chance to go to the next level in life.”
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