Chris East describes Lazar Boskovic as "constantly the goofy guy," an obvious choice to represent his team in dance-offs at season-opening public practices the past two years.
Boskovic's expressions also fit the funny-guy tag, as he regularly sports a grin nearly proportional to his wiry 6-foot-10, 220-pound frame. Lately, the junior center from Belgrade, Serbia, has given MSU men's basketball coach Matt Murken reason to smile, too.
In three games since returning from an ankle injury, Boskovic has averaged 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds while playing just 18.7 minutes in those contests.
Minot State University junior Lazar Boskovic has averaged 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in three games since returning from an ankle injury. Photo courtesy of Sean Arbaut/MSU sports information.
Boskovic's recent emergence gives the Beavers much-needed depth and size in their frontcourt as they prepare for the bulk of their Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference schedule. After a long holiday layoff, MSU (6-4 overall, 2-4 NSIC) resumes competition with matchups against Wayne State today and Augustana on Saturday.
"He helps us space the floor a lot better and it's a lot harder for people to defend us because he's so big inside," East said, referring to Boskovic's ability to force double teams. "It kind of spaces out the floor and everybody can make their move."
Boskovic's totals from the last three games would jump to 13.8 points and 5.7 rebounds if he played 25 minutes per game - a reasonable amount of playing time even for a foul-prone post player. But for now, he looks to be locked into a backup role behind East (8.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Samuel Johnson (13.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg), both undersized but athletic 6-6 senior forwards.
Murken said Boskovic still finds himself slightly out of position at times, which contributes to his sporadic minutes.
"For team defense or offensive execution, it's so important to be in the right spot at the right time and to know why you're there," Murken said. "If you have one guy off a little bit, it can make your whole team look bad. He's still learning that side of it."
Boskovic came to MSU after hearing about the positive experiences of other Serbians who suited up for the Beavers, including recent men's basketball players Milos Jerotijevic and Bojan Janic. Freshman Serb Stevan Jovanovic joined MSU's squad this year, as did Serbian graduate assistant Dusan Radivojevic.
These countrymen have provided plenty of support for Boskovic, but last year the 23-year-old redshirt junior was the only one on campus. Yet, true to the outgoing nature that makes him a willing participant in dance competitions, Boskovic made friends pretty easily.
"I met a lot of people, especially because I'm 6-10 and I'm Serbian," he said in flawless English. "A lot of people only knew me as, 'Hey, there's a 6-10 dude from Serbia!' But I met a lot of people in my first couple of weeks and I really like Minot so far, everything but the winters."
Boskovic said it has taken a little time to adjust to college basketball in the U.S.
"I would say it's a lot faster here," he said. "It's way more running than European, but European basketball is way more dirtier. Sometimes you can do illegal screens, moving screens, you can use elbows and your hands a little more than you can use here, especially with the new rules that came in the NCAA this year."
The big man's skill set gives him the potential to be a standout in Division II and the NSIC. Being 6-10 is a nice start no matter where a player is competing, and Boskovic grew up playing guard before hitting a massive growth spurt in high school - giving him solid footwork and skills for a player his size.
Boskovic hopes to play professional basketball before using the corporate fitness degree he's pursuing.
"I already have plans back in my country to open my own fitness center and just expand from there, to help people live healthier lives," he said.
Before worrying about a professional career, Boskovic must develop into a consistent performer for MSU - something he appears closer and closer to becoming.
"You'll see a lot of those guys where they have that moment where it all clicks and they figure out how to be successful," Murken said. "Hopefully he's starting to get close to that point in time where things just slow down and it becomes easier. He's really been up and down for the little over a year that he's been here, but it seems like he's starting to figure things out a little bit. His size gives him an advantage and ... you can't teach that side of it."
Daniel Allar covers Minot State University athletics. Follow him on Twitter @DAllar_MDN.