PROVO — From the “Where are they now” file …

Jim Eakins versus Kresimir Cosic one-on-one.  It was a classic casual faceoff in the Smith Fieldhouse back in the early ’70s, a story Eakins likes to remember. 

Jumbo Jim Eakins was the main building block for Stan Watts’ championship teams in the mid- to late-’60s at BYU. At 6-foot-11, the Sacramento, California, native was picked in the fifth round of the 1968 draft by the San Francisco Warriors and Oakland Oaks of the American Basketball Association. He played eight seasons with the Oaks, Washington Caps, Virginia Squires, Utah Stars and New York Nets.

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ESPN recently ranked him the fifth-best No. 57 draft pick ever, Manu Ginobili was first. 

After turning professional, Eakins returned to BYU in the summers to work on a master’s degree in public administration. He’d just helped the Oaks win an ABA championship when he first met Cosic on campus.

Jim Eakens | Courtesy BYU Athletics

Eakins, now 73, remembers it was between morning classes in the summer of 1972 or 1973 when he decided to wander over to the Smith Fieldhouse on lower campus.

“I was entering the doors to the East Annex with a hundred other students when I literally bumped into Kresimir who was coming out. He stopped, looked at me, and said, ‘You the pro player?’

Eakins replied, “If you’re talking about basketball, then yes.”

Cosic then said, “We play on the main court at noon, OK?”

Having been on the East Coast, Eakins had heard about Cosic but didn’t know much about him. “Two things that I had heard were that he was good and he was a showboat. For some strange reason, we did not get much news about sports about the West in Virginia.”  

There was no 24-hour ESPN in those days.

Eakins had not picked up a basketball for about five weeks and thought to himself, “OK, a workout with the BYU varsity team would be a good thing. A little running, a little shooting, and a little physicality would be a good thing. So, I said OK.”

At high noon, Eakins dressed in his workout gear and wandered out on the court. “I was a little surprised that Kresimir was the only player there. I just assumed that the other players (like Doug Richards, Belmont Anderson, Bernie Fryer) were coming from classes or other places and would be showing up soon so I began to shoot around to warm up.”

After a few minutes, Eakins heard a commotion and looked around to see people filing in and filling up the green seats in the Smith Fieldhouse. He turned to Cosic and asked where the other guys were.

Cosic replied, “What others?”

Word had apparently spread — without Eakins knowledge — that the “pro” would be taking on Cosic one-on-one.

Eakins said, “You said ‘we’ play at noon. Where are the other ‘we’?”

“No others. ‘We’ is you and me.”

Surprised, Eakins thought about this for a minute.

“I groaned inside but was trapped by my pride. I couldn’t back out now. By now the green seats were half full to see Cosic play ‘the pro’ and more were coming,” said Eakins. 

Kresimir Cosic during his playing days at BYU. | Courtesy BYU photo

The game was the standard one-on-one; 2 points per basket, play to 21, winners retain possession after six.

“I quickly realized that my bread and butter jump shot was really rusty so I would have to rely on a low post inside game. I was surprised that Kresimir let me easily post up, but when I made a move to the basket he just waited for me to shoot and would easily time a leap and block my shot. 

“The game quickly got out of hand for me. Kresimir was killing me, making shot after shot and I was either missing my shot or getting it blocked. To make things worse whenever he made a shot the crowd would cheer.”

By then, the green seats were almost full. There was a huge audience.

“Not only was my pride getting kicked by Kresimir, but I was getting mad at the crowd. I showed up expecting a nice leisurely full-court workout and I found myself in a reputation-destroying faceoff on center court.” 

Cosic got ahead of Eakins by a score of 16-4. The crowd got into it. Cosic started showboating with his trick shots and they missed. It gave Eakins new life. He was mad, embarrassed and generally ticked. 

“When I scored my sixth point and retained possession after each score I came up with a new strategy. Knowing that he would let me drive to the hoop and just wait to block my layup, I surprised him. Instead of laying the ball up I dunked it.” — Jim Eakins

“When I scored my sixth point and retained possession after each score I came up with a new strategy. Knowing that he would let me drive to the hoop and just wait to block my layup, I surprised him. Instead of laying the ball up I dunked it.”

Cosic protested, “No, no, no, you can’t dunk.”

Eakins replied, “What do you mean I can’t dunk? I just did.”

Cosic answered, “No, no, dunking is illegal.”

And it was. It was not allowed in the college game at that time.

Eakins came back, “Dunking is illegal in college only, not in the pros. I am a pro. Therefore I can dunk.”

Eakins recalls the next few minutes before that crowd. 

“I drove to the hoop and dunked five straight baskets, which got us even at 16 each. I hit a short jumper from the top of the key giving me 18. Then I ended the game with two final drives and dunks. 

“I remember how quiet the crowd became. Kresimir was really mad. He grabbed the ball and said, ‘We play again.’ I said ‘Sorry, I have a class to go to,’  and walked off the court feeling my pride was restored a little bit. I didn’t mention that my class wasn’t for an hour and 30 minutes. That was OK. I had won. And there was no way I was going to play him again.”

In that little exhibition, Cosic showed his game, that he was an entertainer, showman, passionate lover of the game and had fun. Eakins showed why he was a professional, that all that mattered is getting the job done.

After a 10-year playing career, 10 years in business, Eakins coached for 23 years with stops at Mountain View, Mount Vernon, Granite and Cottonwood high schools. He was instrumental in starting the basketball program at Salt Lake Community College. He and his wife Jean served missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Chuuk Islands (Micronesia) and Philippines.

That high noon showdown was Eakins’ one and only meeting with Cosic. He went back to working on his master’s degree and Cosic went back to his career as an All-American, future Hall of Famer and Olympic medal winner with international fame as a European superstar and legend.