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As the Magic build, center Nik Vucevic is the foundation

in Sports/Statewide by

The rebuilding has to start somewhere. Why not half a world away?

It was there that a boy with a basketball tried to walk in the footsteps of a father. It was there where Nik Vucevic determined how far the game could take him, and how far it could not.

He is 25 now, and frankly, Vucevic remains the best bet the Orlando Magic has to get better.

No, he is not the perfect player. He is not Shaquille O’Neal or Dwight Howard. He isn’t quick enough on defense. He has been accused of being a trifle soft.

Ah, but Vucevic can score, as he did in Orlando’s victory over Chicago Wednesday night when he had 24 points. He remains the closest thing to an all-star that this Magic team has. So why not build around him?

How good would Vucevic be with an elite player or two? It’s the question that Magic fans have to be asking themselves. Vucevic is averaging 17.7 points and nine rebounds a game. There are wheels that squeak louder. After all, Vucevic has come so far.

He was born in Switzerland, and he grew up in Belgium, the son of professional basketball player. He was playing in his hometown of Bar, Montenegro, when he decided there was just so much better he could get in Europe. So it was off to Southern California, and eventually, the NBA before coming to the Magic in the deal for Howard.

“It was a big decision for me and my parents. I was playing in my hometown in Montenegro and I felt like I had achieved the (top) level and I felt like I needed to go to the U.S. to achieve more,’’ Nik told Puremagic.com. “If I had stayed there I wouldn’t have had a chance to improve because I felt like I had already topped out.

“I could have gone to a (pro) team in Europe and tried to get some minutes, but playing time is tough there because they are already have their guys and they don’t really play young guys. We felt like in the U.S., I’d be able to play against guys my age, but they would be better than me and at a higher level than me. We thought if I got playing time (in America) that I would improve. In the end, it worked out great for me because that made me a better player.’’

Now, Vucevic has to help the Magic be a better team. It’s a guard-dominated league, but the Magic have usually been center-led when they’ve been good behind O’Neal and Howard. But Shaq was done with Orlando at 23, and Howard at 26. Vucevic says he wants to stay.

The Magic have won three out of four and seven of their last 12. There is hope. But the Magic have to shop well, and draft well, to take a step.

Wonder if there is anyone else left in Montenegro?

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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