Center Luka Mirkovic is only an inch short of seven feet. The junior often fumbles with English words in a slight Eastern European accent, which is understandable considering he moved to America only three years ago. However, unlike language and culture, Mirkovic’s basketball skills are universal. Last year, the Serbian native led the men’s basketball team with a .481 field goal percentage, racked up three double-doubles and appeared in 33 of 34 possible games. This year, his expectations are even higher.
What do you think is your biggest role as a center?
Just to get rebounds, play tough, run the offense, [and] make smart plays. I’m a veteran, so [I] just try to be a leader out there and try to make the best decisions and help our team work.
Last year, you led the team in field goal percentage. What are you thinking about this year?
Yeah, I try to make smart plays. I try not to force anything and try to take good shots.
You’re also ranked 14th in the Big Ten for rebounds, averaging 5.7 per game. How are you preparing for that this year?
Well, to be honest, I have the highest ambitions when it comes to rebounds. I want to be one of the best rebounders in the Big Ten. I just feel like rebounding is a mindset. I’m not the most athletic guy, but I play hard, I try to get every rebound. So, like I said, this year, to be honest, I want to be the best rebounder in the Big Ten. That’s going to be my goal, and I’m going to strive for it and work hard for it.
How are you working for that in practice?
I’m working with one of the assistant coaches. We have a few drills that we do before and after practice. In order to be a better jumper, you’ve got to jump a lot. So, I just do a lot of jumping.
What do you think is the biggest problem you face at this level in your career?
I think early in my career, a big problem for me was strength. I was pretty skinny my freshman year. I’ve been working a lot on my body the past few years, and I think I came a long way, especially this year in the off-season, especially when the new strength-technician coach came. We’ve been working a lot together and it’s been fun and I think I definitely improved in that area.
You’re the only center now on the roster. Does that put any pressure or motivate you in anyway?
Pressure is always out there. You know, it’s Northwestern University and [the] Big Ten, so I kind of got used to that part. No, it’s just a lot of responsibility and that’s what motivates me, that’s what gets me up in the morning, because I know that the team heavily relies on me. So I need to make sure that I’m doing my best and giving it all when I’m on the court.
You had a lot of steals last year, a total of 26. As a center, that’s not a usual occurrence. What are you thinking when you’re in the game?
I just try to be always alert. I guess I just try to be a little low to the ground and on my toes so I can move quickly and try to—what’s that term in English—try to see it coming, I guess, just try to figure it out, you know, where’s the ball going to go.