Bonding Propels Men's Basketball Team to Nationals


West Windsor, N.J. - As the Mercer County Community men's basketball players commit themselves to the concept of sacrificing for the good of the team, they might want to think of standout sophomore Uros Kovacevic's 83-year-old grandfather. Rade Kovacevic was born and raised in Montenegro, but after moving to the United States he served alongside Americans during the Vietnam War.

He must be glad to know how his grandson's team at MCCC bonded together during its unexpected run to the Region 19 title.

On Tuesday, March 16, the Vikings will make their first appearance at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Tournament since 1998. The Vikings (20-12) open play at the 25th annual event in Danville, Ill., against sixth-seeded Kishwaukee College (26-6) of Malta, Ill.

Players have clearly embraced the "team-first" concept that is essential for second-year head coach Howard Levy to run his version of the Princeton offense.

"We have a good group of group of players," said Uros Kovacevic, a 6-foot-4 sophomore swingman who has his grandfather's accent. "The Princeton offense requires a lot of backdoor cutting, a lot of passing and we have a great point guard, Derek Williams; he's been passing great all year.

Sharing a light moment courtside
earlier in the season

"Also, our big guys are good passers," Kovacevic continues. "All year, we've been at the right spots when it was running good. We were confusing other teams."

The Vikings picked the right time of the season to jell. They have won 10 of their 11 last games, including all three in the Region XIX Tournament, which was capped by a 79-69 victory over top-seeded Lackawanna Junior College on its home court in Scranton, Pa. Kovacevic scored 29 points in the title game.

"The main thing that we have to do as a team is look at where we came from and use that as motivation to keep going," freshman forward Isaiah Andrews (Florence, N.J.) said.

MCCC's balance underscores its commitment to the team. It has four scorers averaging in double figures for the season: Kovacevic at 15.8; center Paco Boussougou (Gabon) at 12.5; Andrews at 11.7; and Quincy Hendrix (Hamilton, N.J.) at 10.5. Williams (Willingboro, N.J.), the veteran point guard, is just shy of double figures at 9.7 points per game, and his five assists per game share the team lead with Kovacevic. Boussougou is one of the nation's leading rebounders at 10.9 per game.

"I do want them to understand that it is their team and they've played in a way that made me feel that they've taken some responsibility," Coach Levy said. "I don't want to motivate, I don't want them to play well because I'm screaming, I want them to play well because they have a chance to win a national championship. How great that would be. How great it would be to win one game."

MCCC will be unseeded at the 16-team national tournament, which runs through March 20. Kishwaukee is the sixth seed. Tuesday's tipoff is 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time. All teams are guaranteed at least two games.

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