Dec. 20, 1999
by Gene Brtalik
The main objective of high school basketball players is to attend the
college that suits them best. With the current explosion of information on
the internet, players can research the colleges of their choice, while
looking for a school with all of the characteristics to give them the
ultimate college experience. Most high school basketball players looking
at schools are trying to find the program they can eventually put on the
college basketball map, while others want to attend one already filled with
a winning tradition. That was not the case for freshman forward Jere
(pronounced URE-ee) Macura, as he used some unique reasoning in selecting
Notre Dame as his college of choice.
"I found out on-line Notre Dame was a nice place with pretty girls,
that was also close to Chicago."
Poll many of the students who attend Notre Dame and chances are
none of them used the same reasoning as Macura for selecting Notre Dame,
but Macura is unique.
In fact, Macura, a native of Split, Croatia, is unlike all but two
other students at Notre Dame - fellow Croatians - basketball player Ivan
Kartelo and fencer Ozren Debic. All three of them are freshman and they
all rely on each other when they are feeling homesick.
"Those guys are great to talk to whenever I miss home," said Macura.
"Plus, it is a big help to have Ivan on the basketball team because we
played together in Split. It also gives me someone to talk to about
everything I am going through, whether it is basketball or school."
The 6-foot-9, 219 pounder has had no problem blending in with the rest
of the undergraduate students at Notre Dame. His physical appearance makes
it seems as if head basketball coach Matt Doherty pulled Macura off the
pages of the latest Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue and not the basketball
courts of war-torn Croatia. Two things do separate him from the rest of
the class, however, his accent and his clothes. Macura's native European
accent breaks through from time-to-time as he struggles with the English
language, and although he may look like an Abercrombie or Gap model, his
clothes will never be mistaken for the latest fashion trend.
"I had to go to the mall and change all my clothes because it's a
totally different style here," joked Macura. "Back in Europe, you could
wear tighter pants. Here, they wear them big and baggy, like sheets."
One place where the American culture shock hasn't hit the
19-year-old small forward is the basketball court, which is often where you
can find him after a day of classes.
"I was concerned at first with the way he would adjust to the
American style of basketball," notes Doherty. "But through the first month
and a half of practice, he has adjusted very well."
"It took a while, but I have adapted to the fast-playing
up-and-down-the-court style," bluntly states Macura, "In Europe, they play
a slower style and use more tactics."
Doherty really didn't know what to expect when he saw the second
player he recruited walk into his office in late August. Doherty had based
his whole recruiting of Macura on videotapes and the words of
"It's like selecting a wife based on video footage," joked Doherty,
"only to be alarmed when she doesn't turn out like you expected on the
Fortunately for the Irish, Macura proved to be the bride that every
guy fantasizes about marrying. His size brings to Notre Dame something the
Irish haven't had in a while - a true small forward. Last year, current
sophomore David Graves filled that role, but lacked the size to dominate
not only the scoring column, but also the glass.
"Jere will give match-up problems to whomever he faces," stated
Doherty. "If he is against a smaller guy, he can post him up and grab the
rebounds over him, but if he is taking on a bigger player, he can take the
ball out and shoot over him."
Coming into this year, every opponent knew that the main focus of
Notre Dame's offense revolved around reigning Big East Rookie of the Year
and second team All-American Troy Murphy. The problem for the team was to
develop a scheme that would keep defenses off Murphy. That is what makes
Macura so vital to this team. He can run, shoot, and pass with the best of
them. His athleticism opens the court for the Irish marksmen and frees the
middle for Murphy. Fans were given an early glimpse of his athleticism at
Midnight Madness, as Macura threw down an assortment of acrobatic dunks,
each time making fans rise to their feet.
Doherty has a lot of confidence in Macura, enough so that he is
often one of the first people off Notre Dame's deep bench.
"I have a lot of faith in Jere when he's on the court, part of that
is because of his competitive nature and the other part is the athleticism
he brings each time he steps on to the court," said Doherty.
"The more I play, the more confidence its gives me," adds Macura.
"It shows Coach has trust me even though I am only a freshman."
Another thing that has caught the eye of the young player is the
emotion that Doherty brings to the floor. Already fans have seen him throw
his jacket to the floor, pick up a technical foul and follow the referee up
and down the court trying to explain in the nicest manner how the official
might have missed that last call.
"When you see Coach yelling, it
fills you with adrenaline and motivates you," states Macura, "It shows that
he really cares about what is going on with this program."
Nine games into the season we have caught glimpses of what to
expect from the young Croatian as he is averaging 4.2 points and 3.8
rebounds a game. In his second game, Macura pulled down seven rebounds to
go along with his seven points in Notre Dame's victory over Siena in the
second round of the preseason NIT. When the Irish traveled to Bloomington,
Ind., to take on Bobby Knight and the Hoosiers, it was Macura who helped
sparked a furious 20-point comeback as he scored 13 points and added eight
rebounds. His three-point-shooting touch has also become evident as he has
scored on six of 20 attempts, adding him to the list of candidates Doherty
may call on to hit that important trey down the stretch.
Although he has dazzled fans with his play, Macura is always looking to
improve. Doherty pushes him in practice when his focus is off, telling him
that he must make better decisions on the court. The yelling and
instruction do not bother Macura though.
"In Croatia, the coach would shout at you all the time. I feel it is
like an advantage for me. By shouting at me, Coach shows he cares for me
and he wants me to improve my play and my abilities."
One thing that cannot be coached is toughness. Evidence of this was in
the Indiana game as Macura dove for a loose ball only to get up and receive
a forearm from the opposition. Macura stood his ground and the pair had to
be separated by the officials.
The Indiana player didn't realize the forearm was the least of Macura's
worries considering what he has endured. Back in 1991, Macura was more
concerned about the air raid sirens whirring around him while he hid with
his family in bomb shelters during the war that gave Croatia its freedom.
The forearm shiver was nothing compared to the bullets and grenades he had
to avoid while he was a member of the Croatian national army.
"All I did was serve in the army," adds Macura, "They taught me how
to shoot all types of guns. It was a new experience for me but not
something I would like to do again. It did make me tougher overall, and I
won't let myself get bullied on the court."
In between protecting his country and himself, Macura was on the
court winning championship after championship. He led the Basketball Club
of Split to four straight national championships, leading the team in
scoring and being named MVP in 1996 and 1997. As a 15-year-old, Macura
played on the 16-and-under Croatian team that won the European
championship. Now with a European championship under his belt, he aims to
help lead Notre Dame to its first-ever national title.
Maybe after the season ends in late March or early April, Macura
will be able to stop, take a breath and enjoy the pretty girls he read
about on the internet, or even take that 90 mile trip down I-80 to visit
Chicago, but for now he is just concentrating on creating a style all his
own - both on and off the court.