The voice of USF Athletics, Jim Louk, will routinely put down his radio headset and pick up the pen to share his perspective on the history of USF Athletics. Louk has been broadcasting games for 27 years and is the resident historian in the Athletics Department hallways. This week he honors 2011 Hall of Fame Inductee Radenko Dobras.
The Class of 2011 - Radenko Dobras
He’s one of the most familiar faces of USF basketball, and still attends games frequently. He’s the third leading scorer in program history and was one of the leaders of the two USF NCAA Tournament teams. He led his team in scoring in each of his four seasons. He was an Academic All-American with a 3.6 GPA. He was a first team selection in both the Sun Belt Conference and the Metro Conference, and he once hit eight three pointers in a game against Florida.
Meet Radenko Dobras of the Kansas Jayhawks.
It was this close.
Only a sudden reversal after a call from USF took the 6-foot, 7-inch sharpshooter away from the plains and to Tampa Bay.
Even though they eventually took Dobras sight unseen, Bobby Paschal and his staff had done plenty of homework on the kid from Europe. A USF professor had led them to a person in Germany who had seen Dobras play. That led to a contact with a coach in Yugoslavia and eventually to Dobras.
“I was on my way to the University of Kansas,” Dobras recalls. “Two weeks before I was to leave I got a call from USF. One thing led to another and a few days after that I was on USF’s campus.”
“The language barrier was a challenge,” says former USF Assistant Coach Rickey Broussard. “We kept repeating things to make sure we were being clear. We told him that he could be a difference maker here; that we would build around him.”
It was Dobras himself who eventually found a neighbor in Yugoslavia that had previously lived in Florida to assist in the language issues.
When he arrived in Tampa, Dobras had never seen USF, and Bulls coaches had never seen him. USF fans had no idea who the late addition to the roster from Yugoslavia was.
By the time he finished his playing days on a court in Boise, Idaho, four years later, everyone knew each other pretty well. After his unusual start, Dobras went on to have one of the great Bulls basketball careers; one that has resulted in his USF Hall of Fame induction as part of the class of 2011.
He was a 6-foot, 7-inch player that could shoot threes, pass and handle the ball. That was much more of a college basketball anomaly 25 years ago than it is today. And, how many guys lead their team in scoring and assists three times in a career?
“There weren’t many guys in that 6-7 range that were true point guards,” says Paschal. “Obviously there are some advantages when you have that kind of height at that position.”
Former USF Sports Information Director John Gerdes recalls his first meeting with Dobras.
“It was obvious that his English was bare minimum,” he says. “But it was even more obvious that he was very intelligent and mature. Because of that I was not reluctant at all to have him speak to the media.”
“Years later he told me that whenever he couldn’t understand something I was yelling from the bench, he just figured I was saying ‘shoot the ball, Radenko,’” laughs Paschal.
His conditioning was legendary. An early workout session that included 818 consecutive sit ups has become a frequently told tale over the years. USF Senior Associate Athletic Director Barry Clements was Director of Sports Medicine and Strength and Conditioning at the time.
“That day we were testing to determine strength achievements and to see if our conditioning programs were effective. The previous student record was 115 sit-ups. Radenko just kept going, working through four different spotters without stopping. It was exhausting just watching him.”
“It was unbelievable,” says Paschal. “I’d never seen such a thing in my life. I thought if he is going to work this hard in everything he does, he’s probably going to turn out to be pretty good.”
Dobras went on start more than 100 consecutive games at one stretch, and averaged 35 minutes per game. Never once in his USF career did he come off the bench in a game, making a total of 114 starts.
He cracked the starting lineup immediately, starting all 28 games in 1988-89 and averaging 16 points per game on a young team that was only some playing experience away from greatness. The team finished 7-21, but the world of USF basketball would change the next season.
“Every game went down to the wire that year. We were young and inexperienced,” Dobras remembers. “As the season went on we wore down, but we showed in moments that there was talent there. And look what happened the following season.”
With more experience and a key addition in Fred Lewis, the 1989-90 Bulls won 20 games for the first time, captured the Sun Belt Tournament Championship, and went to their first NCAA Tournament.
It was the beginning of a three-year run that would see the Bulls go to two NCAA Tournaments and one NIT. They won 58 games, and at one point boasted a lineup with four men who would score more than 1,000 points in their Bulls careers (Dobras, Lewis, Gary Alexander and Hakim Shahid).
Dobras was a model of consistency, never averaging less than 16 or more than 18 points per game in any of his four seasons.
“He added an awful lot because of his ability to score and pass,” says Paschal. “He was a fan favorite, which was a very positive thing for us.”
A highlight for Dobras was finishing his career at the NCAA Tournament in Boise in March, 1992. “That was the best team I played on at USF. We were so confident that we could play anybody in the country. We ran in to a team (Georgetown) that was too strong inside. I remember it was a one point ball game late and we just couldn’t close it.”
That game ended the greatest three-year run in USF basketball history, sparked by Dobras and teammates like Fred Lewis, Hakim Shahid, Gary Alexander, Bobby Russell, and later Derrick Sharp. It was a cohesive unit that stayed nearly intact over his four-year USF career.
“It’s remarkable how Dobras, Shahid, Alexander and others matured in to great teammates despite extremely diverse backgrounds,” says Gerdes.
“It’s great knowing that I came here and grew with the team,” says Dobras. “We all grew together as people, as young men, and as basketball players. The team, this community and this University all grew together. It was a great time for the program, and we all enjoyed it.”
So did we, Radenko.
Radenko Dobras will join the USF Hall of Fame at this year’s induction ceremonies on November 18, 2011.
Be sure to follow the Voice of the Bulls, Jim Louk, on Twitter at @USFjimlouk