The road to the NBA from college is often the same for most players. Combines, workouts, and training sessions are all part of the usual path, but actually playing in a real game environment isn’t part of it. Not only is St. Joseph’s Halil Kanacevic getting to take part in a real basketball environment, he is doing his pre-draft training playing in one of Europe’s premier national leagues.
Kanacevic, a Staten Island native, transferred to St. Joseph’s after one year at Hofstra, after head coach Tom Pecora left for Fordham. He made a quick impact on the Hawks’ team with a very strong all-around game for a 6’8, 255 pound forward, and he was an integral part of this past year’s team which won the Atlantic 10 Tournament and went to the NCAA Tournament. In the semifinals of the A-10 Tournament against St. Bonaventure, Kanacevic put up one of March’s most dominant games with 26 points, 17 rebounds, and 4 assists. He finished his senior year averaging almost 11 points, 9 rebounds, and over 4 assists per game, and for his career, he finished with over 1000 points, 1000 rebounds, 400 assists and 200 blocks.
Kanacevic credits a lot of his growth to the decision to play at St. Joseph’s. “Going to St. Joseph’s led to tremendous to tremendous growth for me,” said Kanacevic. “I had never left New York before and grew up among lower middle class and blue collar people. St. Joseph’s allowed me to meet a lot of new people from different backgrounds, and taught me to not judge people without knowing them.”
St. Joseph’s and Coach Phil Martelli also allowed Kanacevic’s game to grow and thrive over the past few years. “Playing for Coach Martelli really allowed me to develop all facets of my game,” said Kanacevic. “He believes in letting players to develop all the skills they can because he knows it will help his team win. “
Coach Martelli also proved to be a great fit for Kanacevic after he transferred. “Obviously, he’s a great coach, but what I like is that he is always up front with you,” Kanacevic explained. “I see things in black and white, and he’’ give that to you. He’ll always give you straight answers.”
Kanacevic’s career playing for Martelli and Hawks came to a close in March in one of the NCAA Tournament’s most exciting games, losing to eventual champion Connecticut in overtime in the Round of 64. It wasn’t the perfect ending, but Kanacevic still learned from the experience. “It was something you always prepare for and is always one of the team’s goals,” Kanacevic said. “It was a struggle for three years, but we kept fighting and improving as a team, and I’m glad we finally had a chance to get there.”
Kanacevic didn’t have much time though to reflect on the end of his college career because after his season ended, St. Joseph’s was contacted about Kanacevic by Acea Virtus Roma, a team in Italy’s top basketball league, who then worked with Kanacevic’s agent Sam Porter.
As the team was approaching the end of their season, they needed to add some big bodies, and Kanacevic, who has a Montenegro passport and wouldn’t fall under United States player limits, would fit the bill perfectly for them. The whole process has been a major adjustment for him.
“The adjustment to being in Italy isn’t easy, not only because I’m living in a different country,” explained Kanacevic. “It’s a different style of game and I came in during a crucial part of the season. The experience is really helping my game a lot though getting to play against professionals and grown men.”
Kanacevic does credit playing alongside other Americans, like former Minnesota star Trevor Mbakwe, for helping him make the adjustment. As of the time of this story, Kanacevic’s team is playing in the league semifinals.
While he is focused on finishing up his season in Italy, Kanacevic knows that he has skills that are in demand from NBA teams. “I have very good size and I can rebound, pass, and shoot the ball,” said Kanacevic. “I’ve been able to show all facets of my game during college, and teams will have a very good idea already how I can help them.”
That doesn’t mean he plans on settling with what he already does on the court and he continues to work on his game. “I know there may be concerns about my athleticism,” said Kanacevic. “I think people may be surprised by my athletic ability because the style of play in college didn’t really allow me to show it off much. Also, I think I have a very good handle on the mental part of the game, but this is a whole new level, and I know I will always need to keep working on that.”
Kanacevic already has an idea of what kind of role he could fill for a team based on his short professional experience so far. “I know I can fill various roles, from being a scorer, or 3rd option, or role player,” Kanacevic said. “I came over to Italy at the end of the season and I haven’t been able to play a lot, but I keep practicing as hard as I can to get ready. It’s an aspect that a lot of players will need to get used to when they go from college to the pros.”
No matter where his career takes him next, Kanacevic boils it all down to basics that he learned from his family when he was growing up on Staten Island. “I have worked for everything my whole life, and I hang my hat on that,” said Kanacevic. “There’s never been a day I didn’t work hard. I may make mistakes, but I will always give it my all, and doing that, I will continue to just get better.”
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