The Croatian Sensation is back! That's right ladies and gentlemen, the sharp shooting Filip Cvjeticanin from Zagreb, Croatia, will once again be suiting up for the Eagles during the 2015-2016 season. Prior to the start of last year, he had back surgery that kept him out of action. Now, back on the court, he has a message for all Florida Gulf Coast fans.
"I do not lose my shot, I cannot lose my shot, and I will never lose my shot," he said. "It just gets better and better."
With a smile brimming from ear to ear, Cvjeticanin is visually ecstatic to finally be able to play again. As a redshirt senior, he is the longest tenured Eagle. He was a part of the recruiting class that brought Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson to FGCU, but due to his injury, was granted a medical redshirt and an additional year of eligibility.
No player knows FGCU like Cvjeticanin, as he is the only player remaining from their Sweet Sixteen run in 2013. As the elder statesman of the team, he's taken it upon himself to help his teammates get acclimated with how the program does business.
"It's important for us as seniors to be really vocal and be really active, and really make sure that the younger guys understand that this is not a joke," Cvjeticanin said. "This is not like 'oh let's come out and ball,' you actually have to focus on details and everything coach is saying, and you actually have to be mentally ready play every practice, every game, every single time."
His passion for the program is something that sets him apart from the other players. No one has experienced the highs that he has, and on the other side of that, no player experienced the low point against Mercer in the Atlantic Sun conference championship in 2014.
The lack of Cvjeticanin was felt on last year's FGCU squad, as they clearly could've used a shooting specialist. At 6-foot-9, he provides the rare combination of height and ability to shoot threes. He started out as a guard, but has since transitioned to the role of stretch-four. With Demtris Morant and Antravious Simmons out until the second half of the season, the Eagles will have no choice but to utilize his height.
"I was never a true big, like a real big guy, but you know coach is making some adjustments, like he can put me as a stretch-four and we can spread the court a little bit, so I can help in that big rotation even though I'm not a back-to-back or really like a big man," he said.
What he means by the term "big man" is the prototypical back to the basket, low post type of player. While his length allows him to snatch rebounds, he's best served away from the basket, and that usually means behind the arc. For his three-year college playing career, he's a 37-percent three point shooter, and managed to shoot 40-percent during his junior season. His height also presents a mismatch for most power forwards. With Cvjeticanin away from the basket, his defender is forced to come out of the paint. That will either open up the floor for the guards to get to the hoop, or allow him to get open so he can hit a three.
This year, Cvjeticanin is sure to play a huge role on the court for the Eagles. Listed as a probable starter for Saturday's game against Ohio University, he is sure to be someone who plays at least 20-minutes a game barring foul trouble. In order for it to work to it's full capacity, coach Joe Dooley's system needs a competent three point shooter, and no one is more qualified for that role than Cvjeticanin.
As a senior, it would be special for him to have another chance to play in March Madness. He's enthused by what he's seen so far, and feels that they have the team in place that is going to work like crazy to get there. While he's not focusing on the expectation of getting back to the tournament, he thinks that the competitive nature of the team could pay dividends down the stretch.
"I'm just expecting us to actually be focused and actually go hard," Cvjeticanin said. "We have a team this year that's really trying to win and is really competitive, so I think that's going to be great."