Kresimir Cosic has no fear of the tougher road. He skipped riches in America to build the former Yugoslavia into a world basketball power. Later, he left coaching to help the new Croatia seek an end to war by becoming one of its top diplomats.
Now, that attitude by the former Brigham Young University basketball star may have helped him beat cancer - for the present. And that battle has given his life and work as Croatia's No. 2 envoy to the United States a new sense of urgency."I was diagnosed with cancer in April. They told me I didn't have to start chemotherapy right away, that it wouldn't hurt to take some time. But I wanted to go after it immediately," says Cosic, deputy ambassador to the United States for Croatia.
Because of the decision not to delay lengthy painful, energy-draining series of chemotherapy, "They say I am in remission already," says Cosic, wearing a sailing hat to cover his loss of hair. He was interviewed at his middle-class home because he doesn't yet have strength to travel much.
Cosic was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph node system. "They say we caught it pretty early," Cosic says. "They say the nodes are now completely clean of cancer, but they are not sure about my spleen."
Cosic's penchant for taking tough courses for selfless causes seems to have put him exactly in the right place at the right time with the right people to combat his cancer.
When the former Yugoslavia melted into several independent warring countries, Cosic was in Greece enjoying coaching a professional basketball team.
"But I could not continue to live the easy life there with my country at war. I had to do something to help," he said. So he offered his services to Croatian leaders - whom he knew personally from decades as a celebrity player and coach of the Yugoslavian national basketball team.
"They made several offers, but I chose to come to this country because I know Americans because I lived here" and he has many contacts in the U.S. government - also from when he was a celebrity college player here.
When Cosic, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, arrived in Washington two years ago, he also sought a house midway between the church's Washington Temple and the Croatian Embassy.
That put him exactly where he needed to be when he noticed physical problems last spring. When diagnosed with cancer, he quickly called a man in a nearby LDS bishopric who is a cancer researcher for the National Institutes of Health.
"He told me exactly what I faced, and helped me decide what to do," Cosic said. "He also told me that a doctor who is maybe the best in the world for my type of cancer is at Georgetown" - a hospital not far from Cosic's home.
So he immediately began treatment from the expert, and was near enough to the hospital he could often rest at home between sessions instead of staying in the hospital. Had he been in Europe, he may have had to travel far for treatment - and the medicine may not have been on the cutting edge.
"There is a slight edge medically by being here. And in these sorts of cases, that can mean a lot," Cosic says.
He adds that the health code he adopted when he converted to the LDS Church while at BYU - which was not the easiest thing for a communist-country player - may also have helped his recovery.
"It is easier for the (chemotherapy) drugs to know what inside you is bad and what is good so they can attack it. It's clear who is the good guys and the bad guys - kind of like during the Reagan administration," Cosic joked. "If you smoke or drink, that may not be so clear."
Cosic said facing possible death also made him change some priorities, gave him a sense of urgency and made him want to serve others even more.
Of course, he has done that for years. The 6-foot-11 former BYU center likely could have made big money in the U.S. pros, but it then would have prevented him ever playing again for Yugoslavia as an amateur. He chose to return to help his country, which won silver and gold Olympic medals with his help, and his church - which he helped to grow there, and even to translate its scriptures and other materials into Croatian.
"I may have done good things before, but now I want to do them even more," he said.
He has spent more time with his wife, 11- and 9-year-old daughters and his 2-year-old son. "Too often in my life I have been too busy with basketball or my church activities," said Cosic, who became presiding elder for Yugoslavia for the LDS Church at age 23.
But he also started spending more time with some other church-related activities he felt were important but neglected, such as finishing his personal history and working on genealogy of his ancestors - whom members of the LDS Church believe may receive ordinances by proxy in temples to help them enter the highest glory of heaven.
He had to pull away from most day-to-day embassy operations for a few months but said it luckily came at a slower time of year. He hopes to soon use the two years remaining on his four-year appointment to persuade the United States to help seek an end to war in the Balkan states.
"Everyone has to find what is acceptable, what they can live with. No one can have everything they want," he said.
"The United States is the only one not seen as trying to grab land," he said. "As the one remaining first power, it should decide what it wants and can live with. Then the others can find ways to conform."
But he said the problem now is "that no one seems to know what the United States wants. It is difficult to proceed without that."
He said he would like to help Americans overcome what he believes are some misperceptions about Croatia. He especially worries that Americans mix up who may be good and bad among factions in the war involving Bosnia.
He said because the war came so fast, Croatia did not have time to develop as many democratic institutions and free markets as other nations or that Americans would like.
"Even the United States didn't have democratic processes right away during its Revolutionary War. It's very hard," Cosic said.
Eventually, Cosic hopes again to return to coaching basketball - where he helped find and develop such players (and now millionaires) as the Chicago Bulls' Toni Kukoc and the Los Angeles Lakers' Vlade Divac.
"But that is what I would like to do, not necessarily what I will do," he said. "You never know what will happen. My country may need me to do something more. Or maybe God will have other ideas."