When Colorado basketball’s newest recruit, sophomore forward Kenan Guzonjic, started playing the game at age 10, he never imagined it would lead to a Division I college career in the U.S. 11 years later.
Three years ago, the 21-year-old Bosnia-Herzegovina native moved to El Paso, Texas for his senior year. He pursued his basketball career at Cathedral High School. A year later, Guzonjic took his talents to Midland Junior College where he averaged 8.4 points a game, 5.4 rebounds and shot an impressive 45.9 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from the three-point range.
When he arrived in America he said he noticed some unmistakable differences between the style of play here and the style of play in Bosnia.
“I would say it was a lot slower back home,” Guzonjic said. “It was more set-up game and a lot of running up and down. When I came to United States it was really hard for me to adjust, you know, on the pace of the game.”
It was because he had difficulty adjusting to this new style of play that Guzonjic didn’t see much play time during his first few months at Midland.
“In the beginning I didn’t play much because I wasn’t tough enough to play inside,” Guzonjic said. “Then I started working on my inside game and I still have my outside game and in my first year at Midland I was able to score in different positions.”
In the end, his hard work paid off.
“At Midland, I think I improved as far as toughness and post plays. I was usually an outside player,” Guzonjic said. “That’s what Coach Boyle saw and that’s how I kind of got to this level.”
But Guzonjic doesn’t necessarily believe his hard work was what convinced head coach Tad Boyle to sign him in the end. He believes it was that 31.3 percent three-point shooting that attracted Boyle to him, because let’s face it: three-point shooting has never been a strength of any of Boyle’s squads at CU.
“When he (Boyle) came to the gym, I was really shooting good and that’s what he wanted the most,” Guzonjic said. “He wanted us to play four-out, so he wants the four man to be able to shoot.”
Aside from last season’s team that shot 33.5 percent from behind the arc under the guidance of then-senior guard Askia Booker, Boyle’s teams have been steadily declining from downtown since he came to the program six years ago when his team shot 37.2 percent.
After a successful first year at Midland, Guzonjic was forced to take a year off to recover from a meniscus injury that ultimately would have sidelined him for his entire sophomore season. When he discovered that he would still be eligible to play his final three years of college ball, he elected to return to his homeland to recover before hitting the court again.
But he never imagined that the unfortunate injury at a low-major school would land him a gig in Division I basketball.
“Honestly no,” Guzonjic said. “I had some D1 offers, but Colorado—I never got in contact with Colorado when I left Midland, so I thought I’m just going to go like a low-major, mid-major school. And then when I found out I had an additional year to play, that I saved one year of eligibility, that’s when they wanted me. I found out in like February that I actually have an offer from Colorado.”
Some of his other offers included the University of Buffalo, Loyola Marymount University, Southern Mississippi University and “a bunch of other low-major schools.”
Despite the low number of D-1 schools that courted Guzonjic, he never doubted his ability to play at this level.
“I knew I was good enough to play here, and he (Boyle) believed in me that I can play here while a lot of people didn’t,” Guzonjic said. “So I really want to prove, myself and other people, that I can actually play in the Pac-12 and he was the one who told me he actually believes in me. That’s the reason why I came here.”
Although the basketball season is still young, Guzonjic has shown the great toughness he talked about in practice as well as his fearlessness to drive the ball to the paint. He also believes his ability to score inside and outside of the paint will be a great asset to the team this season.
Guzonjic said he believes his biggest strength lies in his versatility.
“I think I’m able to score outside and inside,” Guzonjic said. “Toughness, like coach says. I’m willing to play hard, so that’s kind of two things I’m good at. I’m a good passer, so I think I should bring offensively especially. I’ll have to work on my defense though.”
The defensive skills he wants to work on may tie back to the knee injury he suffered over a year ago, and Guzonjic said he believes losing some weight is the biggest obstacle he’ll have to overcome to achieve that higher level of defense. His goals for the season revolve around his ability to get healthy and his work ethic.
“This season, for myself to get healthy, like be back where I used to be, like lose some weight, get in shape to 100 percent, and play really hard so people actually recognize me so the next two years I don’t have to work as hard,” Guzonjic said. “This is the season that I show myself so the next two years I can actually play a lot more. And for the team, I would like to get to the NCAA tournament.”
Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Alissa Noe at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on twitter @crazysportgirl1.