There isn’t a player on BYU’s basketball roster who was alive when Kresimir Cosic lived.

But they’ll get a complete education on Cosic when they travel to Croatia, formerly Yugoslavia, as a portion of a Cougars basketball tour with a stop in Italy. The team leaves on Friday after nine sessions of two-a-day practices.

On a daily basis, BYU players are exposed to Cosic’s name. He is represented in their practice facility, an annex to the Marriott Center, by a giant banner hanging high on the wall alongside another one for legendary coach Stan Watts. Both are inductees into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

You can’t blame BYU players if they have no connection to Cosic other than the banner.  Yet, he represents so much civic, political, religious and athletic history in Croatia, Serbia, America and Europe, that just studying about Cosic, an Olympian and former ambassador to the U.S., is a semester’s worth of education.

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Once in Croatia, they’ll learn firsthand just who this legend was. 

They’ll play in an arena named after him, they’ll play against a team in Zadar that was built because of his fame four decades ago as a national hero. They’ll see a statue of him, the first player in basketball history to have played all five positions in high-level competition.  They’ll meet his wife and children and hold a clinic in his honor.

They’ll get a deep sip into the life of an iconic BYU alum, who is part of their brotherhood.

“We’ll actually play in the Kresimir Cosic Arena,” said Pope. “We’re going to work the Cosic Basketball Camp. We’re going to have a meal with his extended family. We’re taking a bunch of gifts, some memorabilia — it’s super special.”

Cosic, according to Pope, is a perfect example of what he wants his basketball team to be.  “We are trying to be a great team. We want to be the best in the country. That’s where we’re trying to go. I want that to be (one of the) most incredible things these guys accomplish in their lives.

“You think about what Cosic accomplished here as a basketball player and then what he accomplished for his country as an ambassador to the whole world. In an area of of the world that was being torn to pieces, he was one of the voices standing and trying to bring some sense to it all.

“I’m so excited for our guys to learn more about him on this trip and kind of capture that vision of the impact they can have on the world too, because that’s why we’re here. We are here to win. We’re here to win huge. More important is that we have young men who are on the way in the process of changing the world, and that’s pretty cool.”

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Pope is investing heavily in this trip to create team chemistry before the season begins and the Cougars join the country’s No. 1 basketball conference, the Big 12.

He’ll need all the team-building experiences he can get.

“Our season will be defined on how close we are,” said the coach, who said his team has already faced some challenges together. He called it “capital we can put in the bank in terms of us being together because we know what we’re up against and we can’t wait to get there.”

During a media availability last Friday, a scuffle for a loose ball broke out between Atiki Ally Atki and Trey Stewart. In the ensuing scrum, it got physical. Pope said situations like that — if handled properly — actually bring a team closer together.

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“I love the competitive nature. I love that our guys see … it’s hard to explain … you get competing so hard that you bare your soul with your teammates,” Pope said. “If you manage it, it’s worth it, and is actually what binds you together. So I love the competitiveness at the beginning. I love the competitiveness at the end of practice.”

Pope said creating a closeness on his team is what he wants as a “special sauce” for the upcoming season.

To give one an idea of the significance of Cosic being in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, the 2023 inductees include Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich.

Cosic was inducted in 1996, one year after his death from cancer. His class included George Gervin, David Thompson and Gail Goodrich.

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