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  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    Semir Cahtarevic, left, a Bosnian, and Vasilije Saraba, a Serb, have each other's backs as brothers in basketball.

  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    Semir Cahtarevic, a 6-foot-7 senior post and wing for ninth-ranked Del Campo, averages 13 points and 9.2 rebounds.

  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    Vasilije Saraba, a 6-foot-4 junior wing, averages a team-high 20.2 points.

Preps Plus: Del Campo boys basketball wins with European flair

Published: Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 - 5:05 pm

Vlade Divac and Drazen Petrovic were like brothers as members of the 1988 Olympic silver-medal-winning Yugoslavian men's national basketball team before becoming early-wave European impact players in the NBA.

But the tumultuous fracturing of the country and bloody civil wars in the early 1990s drove a wedge between Divac, a Serb, and Petrovic, a Croat.

"To build a friendship takes years, but to destroy it, it takes one second," said Divac in the documentary "Once Brothers."

There was no opportunity for reconciliation for Divac after Petrovic's death in a car accident in 1993.

But for Del Campo teenagers and basketball standouts Semir Cahtarevic and Vasilije Saraba, the brotherly bond of a Christian and Muslim may serve as a symbolic healing of a cultural wound, even if it's happening thousands of miles from their war-scarred homeland.

"Here's a guy from a country that was in war with mine, and he should be like a bad guy to me, but we're friends," said Cahtarevic, a Bosnian.

Said Saraba, a Serb: "I feel the same way as him. I'm proud of my country, my heritage, but the great thing about America is the way we come together from so many cultures."

In another twist, Saraba, a 6-foot-4 junior wing, likes to model his game after the slick-shooting Petrovic, while Cahtarevic, a 6-7 senior post and wing, is an admirer of Divac, one of the best passing centers to ever play.

"They have fun with the Divac-Petrovic thing," Del Campo coach Dave Nobis said. "They work so well together on the court. They're both extremely coachable, and they're throwbacks in that they don't mind constructive criticism."

Cahtarevic came to the United States at age 3, his family – father Hidajet, mother Zijada and younger brother Emrah (a Del Campo freshman) – driven from Bosnia by the strife.

Saraba arrived at age 8, seven years after his father, Lazar, had immigrated to the United States seeking a better opportunity for his wife, Milojka, his youngest child and Vasilije's older brother and sister, Nikola and Lulu.

Despite spending most of their lives in the United States, both bring a European-style sensibility to a No. 9 Del Campo team that is 14-5 and hopes to go deep enough into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs to reach Sleep Train Arena.

Cahtarevic and Saraba have an array of skills. Both can dribble, pass and score, talents honed by returning almost every summer to play in the European towns where they were born.

Saraba is averaging a team-high 20.2 points per game and is 41percent (42 for 101) in three-pointers and 88 percent from the foul line (65 of 74).

Cahtarevic averages 13 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists and often is the team's primary ballhandler, despite being the Cougars' tallest player.

Both earned the admiration of longtime Foothill coach Drew Hibbs when they helped the Cougars beat his shorthanded Mustangs 77-31 Jan. 2. The duo accounted for eight of Del Campo's 12 three-pointers.

"I was very impressed," Hibbs said. "They obviously work well together. They sure shot it well against us."

If the two players have an Achilles' heel, it's how they react sometimes to physical play. They got a big dose of body bumps against Del Oro on Jan. 4, a nonleague game that saw the Golden Eagles rally from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to win 76-70 in overtime, snapping Del Campo's 10-game winning streak.

Still, Nobis said both have come a long way since their freshmen years.

" 'V' was about 5-8 and the eighth man on the freshman team, then he went to Europe over the summer and came back at 6-2," Nobis said. "We used him as a zone buster last season.

"This summer, he goes back to Serbia again, comes back at 6-4, and now he can shoot it even better and gets to the basket."

Cahtarevic was a little more physically developed as a freshman, but "it took him awhile to get it," Nobis said. He was the only junior starter on last year's 22-6 team, and now he's the only senior starter on a team with nine juniors.

"The question mark at the start of this season was if Semir was going to step up and be a leader, and he has," Nobis said. "He's a great passer. He really finds people, especially 'V'."

Cahtarevic hopes to make his mother proud by earning a full-ride college scholarship. A former player, Zijada was his first coach and gets the most credit for his silky shooting stroke.

"I'd go to the park when I was little and try to do layups," he said. "She'd keep having me step back and shoot from the free-throw line."

Saraba has even bigger dreams. He hopes to become the second Del Campo player to reach the NBA, joining current Los Angeles Clippers journeyman Matt Barnes.

Saraba and Cahtarevic got to play against Barnes in an alumni-varsity game last year and both were quick to note that they beat Barnes' alumni team by a point.

But Nobis put things in perspective – Barnes scored 47 points.

The 6-8 pro's gritty playing style doesn't have the same allure for Cahtarevic or Saraba as does the style of play of their European heroes, Divac and Petrovic.

But they thought it was special to be able to play up close and personal against an NBA player that attended their same Fair Oaks school.

"We got to talk to him the night before during an open gym," Cahtarevic said. "That was pretty neat."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Bill Paterson



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