Boys basketball: Maricevic’s arrival turns Longmont Christian into contenders

  • Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Longmont Christian's Antun Maricevic sinks a two-pointer over Anthony Neu during a game against Denver Christian on Jan. 5 in Lakewood.

  • Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Longmont Christian's Antun Maricevic dunks the ball over Caleb Jonker during a game against Denver Christian on Jan. 5 in Lakewood.



LONGMONT — Quietly, Antun Maricevic made his way from Croatia to the United States in pursuit of a potential collegiate basketball career.

The son of a sheepherder who wanted him to attend a Christian school, the talented Croatian forward chose Colorado because he loved the mountains, and eventually picked tiny Longmont Christian School in the state’s Front Range, which he felt provided natural environment nearby that reminded him of home.

Next to no one, including the coaches at Longmont Christian, knew the type of player that was coming. But as quietly as he arrived, a high school player of Maricevic’s caliber doesn’t go unnoticed for long and he instantly transformed the Warriors into legitimate contenders in Class 1A.

“If I stayed in Croatia, I would have to become a professional player and I couldn’t play for high school,” said Maricevic, an 18-year-old senior who taught himself to speak English. “I didn’t see myself there and I thought I would try America. It was the good choice for my future and I’m really happy here.”

The Warriors won six games all of last season. That was before they got a 6-foot-9 big man who can run the floor, handle the ball and shoot the three.

With Maricevic joining an already promising squad that included returning all-conference guard Cameron Jauregui (11.3 ppg) and Luke Puchino (18.8 ppg), the Warriors have opened the 2015-16 campaign with a 6-0 record. Even after a five-point win over Denver Christian last Tuesday, the Warriors have defeated their first six opponents by an average of 32 points.

Maricevic himself is averaging exactly 32 points per game. That’s good for second in the entire state of Colorado. He also leads the state in rebounds with an average of 18.4 per game and shoots around 30 percent from behind the arc.

Maricevic scored 46 in a win over Belleview Christian, and had a 42 point, 22 rebound effort in a victory over Shining Mountain.

Several Division-I college programs have already shown interest in Maricevic, including the University of South Florida and the University of Denver. Warriors head coach Myron Huey has mentored elite players the likes of Charlotte Hornets draftee Rex Chapman over his 30-year coaching career, and was as surprised as anyone when he first met Maricevic. While it’s still early, Huey said Maricevic has even greater potential than Chapman did at his age.

“We got him by accident, and it was a good accident,” Huey said. “We got lucky and he fit right in. And he’s happy to be here. He’s adjusting quickly to the more physical American game and I think it’s unlimited what he can do because I think the higher the level that he plays on, the better he’ll play.

“Phone calls are starting to roll in now because nobody knew about him. Nobody knew he was coming. It’s almost like a fairy tale in a way because here he comes to a place where we don’t even have a gym to play in. We have to rent places. But we have a really good program and it almost feels like that’s how it was supposed to happen.”

Maricevic arrived at Longmont Christian seemingly out of nowhere, so what’s supposed to happen next? The Warriors think the next step is to compete for a state championship.

“He’s changed everything, everything,” Jauregui said. “Our goal is to win state. There are about seven guys on the team who have been playing together since about fifth grade so we know each other really well. And then there’s Antun, and he’s open all the time. He’s not a ball hog and he knows to pass it so we all get open shots because of him. It’s so exciting.”

The Warriors will compete in the Alaskan Airlines Classic this week in Alaska.

Brad Cochi: or