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Making the most of his SECOND CHANCE

by JASON ELLIOTT
Sports Writer | December 25, 2010 8:00 PM

When Petar Joksimovic came to North Idaho College from Belgrade, Serbia, in 2004, he was hoping to make an impact on the Cardinals in Jared Phay's first season as head basketball coach.

While it didn't quite pan out then, Joksimovic this season is finally realizing a dream he had six years ago, after learning from the nightmare that left him homeless for a short period of time.

During the 2004-05 season, NIC had a wealth of forwards and opted to redshirt Joksimovic so he could adapt to the surroundings of playing in America.

"It was kind of a mutual decision between the coaches and I to have me redshirt that first season," said Joksimovic, 25. "I had to get used to playing basketball and the lifestyle here. I wasn't used to the college life and it was my first time away from home. Everything was new and it was for the best for me to take a year to get better and improve my skills."

That never happened.

Joksimovic wound up out of school and eventually, off the Cardinal basketball team.

"Between school and the everyday temptation, I just fell into a trap," said Joksimovic, a 6-foot-4 wing. "Whether it was video games, or just not going to class, I did it. It wasn't that I was failing because I didn't understand the work, it was because I didn't go to class when I was supposed to."

Even living with others on the team, they were unable to keep him on the right path.

"If someone wasn't in the house, they didn't know you weren't at school that day," Joksimovic said. "I was really immature back then and wasn't tough mentally. I got caught up in the everyday temptations of not doing schoolwork."

Joksimovic continued to live in the apartments with his teammates through the summer until housing was no longer covered once he was released from his scholarship.

"He didn't do well academically so we didn't want him back on the team," Phay said. "He stuck around as long as he could, but eventually he had to go."

"It was really hard times," Joksimovic said. "Fortunately, a man offered me some work and a room in his house to stay."

That man was Coeur d'Alene resident Joe Cleveland, who operated a drywall business.

"He gave me a part-time job and taught me everything I know about drywall," Joksimovic said. "He's a really good guy and got me on my feet. He also taught me to grow up. He'd only known me for 48 hours and knew I had nowhere to go. It was a really great thing to do."

Joksimovic remained in the area, eventually meeting his wife, Sarah, and the two got married in 2007 and live in Coeur d'Alene.

"I decided to stay around and got involved in construction," Joksimovic said. "I had some contacts and they were able to keep me working."

Not exactly what he had in mind when coming to America, but for a man in his 20s, it was what needed to get done.

"It's a hard job," Joksimovic said. "There are days when the last thing you want to do is get up and go to work. But I had grown-up responsibilities and a place to live."

Another reason for hanging around North Idaho was he began dating Sarah in 2007.

After settling into the married life, the couple also welcomed a baby boy, Luka, in 2008.

Joksimovic began taking summer classes later that year.

"That's why I went back to school," Joksimovic said. "I started taking a couple classes during the summer to get back into the swing of things."

He then approached Phay after a game about rejoining the Cardinal program.

"I wanted to finish my education," Joksimovic said. "I also had an itch to try to play college basketball again. I felt like I had some unfinished business and that I'd let the school and coaches down. At my age, this was my last chance to hop on board, so I got back into shape."

At first, Phay was skeptical, but was willing to give Joksimovic a second chance.

"Because he's a walk-on, there really wasn't much risk on our end," Phay said. "I could tell he'd matured and didn't see it as a high risk on our end."

When Joksimovic began to get back into shape, he weighed 252 pounds, up from 192 as a freshman.

"I started working out at Peak Fitness," Joksimovic said. "I went in at 5 a.m., worked out, then went to work and back to work out after that."

That process continued for five to six months before Joksimovic began to feel ready to play again.

"By doing two-a-days, I'd lost 45 pounds and began to get into college shape," Joksimovic said.

Next up was the conversation with Phay.

"I came into his office and had a man-to-man talk," Joksimovic said. "He could tell by the way I was talking I was serious. I knew if I committed myself, I knew I wouldn't blow it."

Since that point, Joksimovic has picked up some valuable minutes as the Cardinals moved to the top spot in the NJCAA polls earlier this month.

"I did good enough when I came in that coach Phay allowed me to walk on," Joksimovic said. "I really don't think he expected me to contribute like I have."

Since he sat out during the 2004-05 season, Joksimovic will be eligible to return next year to NIC for a second season of basketball.

"Because his playing clock never started, he'll be able to return if he wants," Phay said. "He's a walk-on this year, but we'll put him on scholarship next year."

He cannot move on to an NCAA Division I program because his five-year window since he enrolled in college (in 2004) has expired. He'll still be eligible to compete at an NAIA or Division II or III school.

Joksimovic has played in 12 of the Cardinals' first 13 games, grabbing 31 rebounds and averaging 3.8 points per game and 13.4 minutes in a reserve role.

"I've been really happy with him thus far," Phay said. "He's had some injuries kind of nagging him, but once he's healthy, he'll probably get into our rotation and start helping us."

Since welcoming Joksimovic back to the team, Phay has seen a huge change both on and off the court.

"He's shown a lot of maturity," Phay said. "His work ethic has really improved. He doesn't take anything for granted and doesn't think he's owed anything. He's also doing well academically and plays hard. He's definitely out to prove something in a positive way."

Even after six years away from school, Joksimovic added that the adjustment hasn't been to much of a burden.

"It's actually easier," Joksimovic said. "I realize the chances I've got and go about it with ease. I accomplished my first goal - to make the basketball team. My second is to keep my grades up."

He'll still fit in a construction job when possible.

"I'm still doing it on the weekends and whenever I get time," Joksimovic said. "There has been times if I don't have an early class I'll go to a job, come to school, then go to practice. If someone needs it, I'll try to fit it in, otherwise I've got some guys that work for me that I can get to be there."

With all his duties, Joksimovic still manages to find time to sleep six hours a night.

"Sleep is overrated," Joksimovic said. "I'm just excited to get another chance. I never thought I'd be in college again, let alone playing basketball. Once I started working out, I knew I could do it. Right now, it would be stupid to throw it all away."

Now, back with the team, Joksimovic feels like with a second chance, he's gotten part of his life back.

"It definitely felt like part of my life was missing," Joksimovic said. "Since I was 4, I'd always played basketball. After not playing it for four years, I felt lost. I was kind of depressed, but it wouldn't show. Now that I'm playing again, I'm more focused on my goals."

When his free time allows, Joksimovic likes to be in the outdoors, whether it is camping or fishing.

"He's about as North Idaho as he can be," Phay said. "He loves everything about this area. Right now, he's about as American as you can get."

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