Northwestern is the elite school in the Midwest; the region's Ivy Leaguer, as it's known. That causes complications when it interferes with athletics.
During the recruiting process, Northwestern coaches are forced to take a few extra steps before moving forward; each prospect must prove transcripts and test scores worthy of NU. If a prospect's grades aren't up to par, the Wildcats back off completely.
The case of Brzoja is complicated. It was a unique chapter in which Northwestern did its due diligence in examining, so let's do the same.
Mislav Brzoja saw his stock rise late in the recruiting game, but Northwestern was after him from the start. A number of teams -- the Wildcats included -- fell in love with his versatility.
"I think the unique thing about him is at almost 6-foot-6 he can play the one, two, or the three," said Traders Point head coach Dave Jamerson. "We try to get the ball in his hands in a lot of places where he can be effective. We use him in pick and rolls, he plays well without the ball, and is good in the post. He is pretty versatile, and he knows what to do from almost any spot on the floor."
Northwestern assistant coach Ivan Vujic, also a native of Croatia, spearheaded Brzoja's recruitment, building a close relationship with him. NU watched from the front row during his AAU games, and purple was on his mind.
The selling point
It was on an unofficial visit to Northwestern where Brzoja was sold. He loved campus and met with the coaching staff, bonding with head coach Bill Carmody.
During a meeting with Carmody, the head coach told Brzoja Northwestern could use him as a point guard or shooting guard, and he could possible make an immediate impact as a freshman. But ...
"They didn't promise me anything," said Brzoja to PurpleWildcats.com after his commitment. "[Carmody] said, every year, a player needs to deserve their minutes. I don't want to go somewhere where a coach will promise you everything, then you sit on the bench. It doesn't make sense."
The strong relationships, including a close one with high school teammates and Northwestern signee, Alex Olah, was enough. The added factor of NU's strong academics helped, too. Brzoja was ready to be a Wildcat.
"I hope we'll go to the tournament next year," he said. "I think we have a very good team."
If it were only that simple.
The final step
Mislav Brzoja recorded a 4.0 grade point average at Traders Point Christian Academy, a prestigious private school located outside of Indianapolis. But it's a bit more complicated than that.
Brzoja's grade point average in Croatia was less than impressive, and his test scores were sub-par, too. What those transcripts prove is that Brzoja has the potential to succeed at Northwestern; it's no easy task to post a 4.0 GPA.
At this point in the recruiting season -- more than a month past the finalization of most recruiting classes, there was no time to waste. Northwestern had to make its sell late in the game, and it worked.
Northwestern admissions must review a prospective athlete's transcripts on a regular basis. Given the date, plus the often complicated process of filing transcripts from overseas, Brzoja's papers were reviewed after his verbal pledge was given, rather than before the offer had been extended. In this case, it became a public decision, and a lengthy one.
Bill Carmody, Pat Fitzgerald and all of NU's coaches have received bad news from the admissions department before. In 2011, for example Carmody was spared the addition of Miami big man Donnovan Kirk, due to poor transcripts. He was later added by DePaul.
The recruiting boards of Carmody and Fitzgerald often lack a few of the marquee names they would wish to pursue. Both programs have done a tremendous job building themselves with the limited field.
Behind the scenes, away from the public's eye, Northwestern coaches must turn in a prized prospect's transcripts, with hopes it passes. The job of NU admissions is to ensure a prospective student possesses the abilities to earn a degree -- with no loopholes. The key word with Northwestern is earn.
The decision handed down by Northwestern admissions is that Brzoja was not worthy of the university's admissions. Brzoja's transcripts showed wasted potential in Croatia, as he failed to reach his 4.0 potential. There was room for deliberation, and sources tell me there was plenty of that during the three-week decision process.
Brzoja had made plans to attend Dayton if Northwestern did not admit him, though he was confident in being accepted and did not anticipate the lengthy wait for the admissions department's decision. The Flyers had moved on since then, filling their 2012 recruiting class.
It's now June, and Brzoja is still without a destination for college. A three-star guard with high-major potential, he must quickly search for somewhere -- anywhere -- to attend.
That's how the strange chapter of Mislav Brzoja and Northwestern came to an end.