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Future Runnin’ Ute fares well at major international tournament

Incoming Ute Lazar Stefanovic fared quite nicely at the FIBA U-19 World Cup, leading Serbia to a fourth-place finish among 16 teams

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University of Utah basketball coach Craig Smith is introduced during the Red and White game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 17, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Over the last eight days, some of the top young basketball players in the world have gathered in Latvia for the FIBA U-19 World Cup. Most eyes have been focused on the likes of the USA’s Chet Holmgren and France’s Victor Wembanyama, among other projected future NBA stars, but Serb and incoming Utah Runnin’ Ute Lazar Stefanovic fared quite nicely for himself.

In helping lead Serbia to a fourth-place finish among 16 teams, the 6-foot-6, 180-pound Stefanovic averaged 12.4 points in exactly 29 minutes per game over seven contests. His scoring totals were remarkably consistent, as he put up 15 points in four of the games. He scored five in one and six in another before posting 16 in the tournament’s third-place game on Sunday, which Serbia lost to Canada 101-92.

Stefanovic struggled from behind the 3-point line in the tournament, shooting just 10 of 34, but he was 17 of 33 inside the arc and an excellent 23 of 25 from the free throw line. For the tournament, Stefanovic finished second on his team in scoring behind Nikola Jovic (not to be confused with fellow countryman and NBA MVP Nikola Jokic), who averaged 18.1 points per game.

When Stefanovic signed with Utah last November as the lone member of the 2021 recruiting class, then-Utes head coach Larry Krystkowiak said in a statement, “Lazar is a tremendous player with high character and an elite student so it’s a great fit both for him and our program. His experience playing in some of the top leagues in Europe and FIBA will be a tremendous boost and brings maturity to both ends of the floor.”

After the third-place game, the USA and France played for the championship in a highly anticipated matchup, as Holmgren is considered the top prospect in the 2022 NBA draft and Wembenyama the top prospect for 2023. The game lived up to its billing, as the USA won 83-81 in a thriller.